While there is no cure for vitiligo, dermatologists say there are steps patients can take at home to make vitiligo less visible, and help prevent the condition from spreading. To observe June’s vitiligo awareness month, the American Association of Dermatology offered skin care tips for people with vitiligo.
Millions worldwide have vitiligo, a condition which causes the skin to lose its natural colour resulting in patches of light skin. Though the white or light patches do not typically cause other symptoms, the condition can cause low self-esteem and depression in patients.
“Many people with vitiligo do not have any other signs or symptoms and feel completely healthy,” said Dr. Anisha Patel, a board-certified dermatologist in a press release. “However, the change in appearance caused by vitiligo can affect people emotionally, especially those who are younger and more concerned about their appearance. The good news is that there are things patients can do at home to make the condition more manageable.”
To assist vitiligo patients in caring for their skin, Dr. Patel recommends the following tips:
1. Protect your skin from the sun: Exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays increases your risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. Since skin affected by vitiligo can burn easily, it is important to protect the skin whenever outdoors. In an effort to avoid sun exposure, Dr. Patel suggests seeking shade and wearing protective clothing—including a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Additionally, apply sunscreen to all areas of the body not covered by clothing. Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and re-apply every two hours when outside or after swimming or sweating.
2. Avoid tanning: Similar to the sun, tanning beds also emit damaging UV rays that cause sunburn and skin cancer. Further, for those with light skin tone, tanning can make their vitiligo more pronounced by increasing the contrast between their natural skin colour and the light patches.
3. If desired, safely add colour to your skin: To conceal patches of light skin, consider using a concealing cream or makeup. For the best results, look for one that is waterproof. In an effort to make the colour last longer, Dr. Patel recommends using a self-tanner product or skin dye that contains dihydroxyacetone.
4. Be careful with your skin: Trauma to the skin, such as scrapes, cuts or burns, can cause new vitiligo patches to develop. Although accidents can happen, patients should avoid injuring the skin.
5. Do not get a tattoo: A tattoo ultimately wounds the skin; the tattoo gun punctures the skin with a needle that has ink in it. Because of this trauma, getting a tattoo can cause a new patch of vitiligo to appear on the skin about 10 to 14 days later.
6. Maintain a healthy lifestyle: To support the immune system, reduce stress and eat a balanced, nutritional diet. Since stress may cause vitiligo patches to appear, use techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or exercise to minimize stress. Mental health is important too. If patients feel depressed, ashamed or self-conscious about changes to their appearance, Dr. Patel says it can help to connect with others who have vitiligo. Additionally, communicate feelings to a dermatologist who can refer patients to a vitiligo support group.
“There are many treatment options available for people with vitiligo, including creams, light therapy and surgical treatments,” says Dr. Patel. “If treatment is desired, see a board-certified dermatologist as soon as possible, as the more active your vitiligo, the better it responds to treatment. A dermatologist will work with you to create a treatment plan that’s customized for you and may also test for thyroid disease, as people who have vitiligo often have thyroid disease, and treatment can successfully control your vitiligo.”