Causes & Symptoms
Vitiligo affects around 1% of the population, all races and skin types, but may appear more noticeable in people with darker skin tones. Vitiligo is characterised by white patches appearing on the skin, known as depigmentation. At The Skin Hospital we understand the significant psychological impact vitiligo can have on a person’s quality of life.
Vitiligo is caused by the body’s own immune system attacking melanocytes (pigment cells). This condition can affect any area of the body in various patterns, but often affects the hands, feet, body folds, genital area, lips and the area around the eyes. Where areas of hair-bearing skin are affected, it can cause the hairs to turn white. For some people this condition seems to worsen with stress or physical injury and can emerge in any area of skin damage or injury, such as cuts, scratches or sunburn (known as koebnerisation). It can also be associated with other autoimume conditions, the most common being thyroid disease, in the patient or patient’s family. Blood tests are not needed to diagnose vitiligo; however, the treating dermatologist may carry out blood tests to look for possible linked conditions or other associations.
Treatments at The Skin Hospital
- For patients with fair skin, the best option may be high vigilance with sun protection measures, such as wearing protective clothing and using daily SPF 50+ sunscreens.
- These include the use of steroid creams or ointments, and steroid-sparing creams such as tacrolimus or pimecrolimus for skin affected in sensitive areas, such as the face.
- Many patients respond to light therapy (NB-UVB), or your specialist may recommend combining light therapy with a photosensitising medication. Light therapy can be carried out at our Westmead and Darlinghurst sites. Extended courses of therapy are often needed for a good outcome and a noticeable benefit is not usually seen until completing three months of therapy.
- In people with stable vitiligo, surgery might be an option. This involves using the patient’s own skin or pigment cells that are transplanted from the unaffected skin into the affected areas. Techniques used for melanocyte transplantation include punch grafting, as well as suction blister grafting and novel cellular grafting techniques, which are all offered at The Skin Hospital.
- Skilled use of camouflage specialist make-up products can help to cover up affected areas while waiting for the medical treatment to start working. A nurse-led camouflage clinic is available at Darlinghurst.
- Products derived from hydroquinone can be used to lighten the darker surrounding skin (to reduce contrast) in circumstances where the affected skin is not responding to other treatments, or when the vitiligo is particularly extensive or affecting areas such as the face.
Excimer UV light
- The Excimer UV-light targets the skin’s immune system to stimulate pigment cells to repigment.
- There is currently a lot of research investigating treatments for vitiligo and our specialists will be able to discuss newly available treatment options with you. Excimer laser, which allows targeted treatment of small areas of vitiligo with a very specific wavelength of UVB, will soon be available at The Skin Hospital.
The Skin Hospital runs a speciality clinic at Darlinghurst and Westmead dedicated to the treatment of vitiligo. If you would like to find out more about this speciality clinic please contact us. The following doctors specialise in the treatment of vitiligo:
If you would like any further information about vitiligo the sites below provide more in-depth descriptions of the types and causes of skin cancer:
Patient support groups, which may be helpful for patients and their families:
Vitiligo Association Australia: www.vitiligo.org.au
Vitiligo Support International: https://www.vitiligosupport.org/faq.cfm