Vitiligo is part of the auto-immune conditions of the human body. It is caused by the inactivation or the destruction of the skin melanocytes – elements that create its characteristic coloring – resulting in the occurrence of white areas or patches on its surface.
As with all autoimmune diseases, vitiligo may present at any time throughout a person’s life. In autoimmune diseases, your body is attacking itself destroying cells or even entire organs erroneously. In this specific case cannot identify some of these melanocytes as its own thus it destroys them. Vitiligo is usually present together with another (or more) autoimmune condition, e.g. psoriasis, thyroid gland dysfunction, lupus erythematosus and other.
Vitiligo affects people from both sexes and of all ethnicities. It usually occurs at a young ages, yet cases of this condition in babies or very elderly people have been reported. It is not a contagious disease in any way aspect and it is not related to personal hygiene. The condition is not painful while in some cases slight pruritus (itching) can be felt.
Vitiligo is unpredictable and can spontaneously stop or expand until it covers a very large part of the patient’s skin, which is what typically happens. Finally the color of the skin becomes white or milky. Any shade of off-white color means that this process is in transitional stage.
No cause has been confirmed yet, which cause the occurrence of this auto-immune disease. However, from data recording worldwide, vitiligo can be due to genetic causes (hereditary predisposition), to neurogenic causes (anxiety, stress, a negative psychological state or intense psychological events) or to environmental/external causes (temperature, solar radiation, contact with/ exposure to chemicals e.t.c).
The most severe symptom of this autoimmune condition is its impact on the patient’s psychological state, especially at visible parts of the body such as the neck and the hands, i.e. parts of the body that are very difficult to hide even in full attire. The lack of discretion of the social entourage or even worse the (open or indirect) rejection of people with vitiligo (social stigma), may lead them to extreme behaviors (constant innervations, aggressivity, intense mood swings) or result in their social exclusion (especially people with lower self-esteem or self-confidence). However, given that neurogenic causes are one of the factors that give rise to or expand vitiligo, such people may present rapid development of their condition and further aggravate their condition.
Its treatment varies depending on the extent and the areas of presentation with topical immunosuppressive medication, phototherapy and mental state building.
Happily, data change and such particular skin may become a beauty standard as in the case of model Winnie Harlow.
Dimitrios Karafoulidis MD, Msc