Vitiligo is a condition where pigment is lost in various areas of the skin leaving white, irregular patches. Michael Jackson was probably the most famous person who had vitiligo. Many of us learned about how having vitiligo can affect one’s life through stories about him. My article titled “Vitiligo, Michael Jackson and 65 Million Others Worldwide,” which I wrote a couple of years ago, discussed aspects of his struggle and that of newscaster Lee Thomas who applies make-up to even his skin tone in order to appear on TV each night.
Vitiligo is believed to be an autoimmune disease though the cause is unknown. Immune cells are thought to destroy the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes in the body. According to Pubmed Health, vitiligo has been associated with other immune diseases such as Addison's disease, hyperthyroidism and pernicious anemia. It is also theorized that vitiligo may be genetic as it can run in families.
Here in the United States, one to two million people have vitiligo while as many as 65 million suffer from it worldwide. About half of people develop it before the age of 20 and most will show signs before the age of 40. Vitiligo affects both sexes, and it affects all races but is more noticeable in those with dark complexions. It most commonly appears on sun-exposed areas such as the face, lips, arms, hands and feet but also can occur inside the mouth, the genitals and the eyes.
Topical steroid therapy is the safest and simplest treatment for vitiligo and is most appropriate for children. Different strength creams are prescribed and smoothed onto the white patches of skin for a minimum of three months in order to see results. Side effects of thinning skin or shrinkage will be monitored by the doctor.
Psoralen photochemotherapy (PUVA) involves use of chemicals that will darken the lighter skin when exposed to UV light. A drug called psoralen is either applied topically or taken orally and then the skin is exposed to specially timed sessions of either sunlight or a UVA light lamp at a doctor’s office.