Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that determines the color of your skin, hair, and eyes, die or stop functioning properly. Although the condition is usually associated with the development of light patches of skin, it can affect any part of your body where melanin is present. People with vitiligo can develop patches of white hair, splotches on the inside of the mouth, or even a lightening of the iris.
Anyone can develop vitiligo, regardless of their skin color. Medical researchers don’t yet understand exactly what causes the cells that produce melanin to die or fail, but they do recognize that there are two main types of the disease:
Segmental vitiligo: This form of the condition usually begins at an early age, progresses for a year or two, and then stops, with lighter patches appearing only on one side or part of your body.
Non-segmental (or generalized) vitiligo: The most common form of the disease, non-segmental vitiligo appears on both sides of your body. There’s usually a rapid loss of skin color in the beginning which then stops. This start-and-stop cycle usually continues for life, allowing color loss to expand and grow more noticeable.
Although vitiligo can begin at any age, it usually starts before the age of 20. It’s thought that vitiligo may be linked to family history, an immune system disorder, or a trigger event, such as a sunburn, stress, or exposure to industrial chemicals.
Most people with vitiligo don’t have additional symptoms, but some people find that it itches or feels painful. The main health risks associated with the condition are social anxiety or psychological distress, an increased risk of sunburn and skin cancer, and an increased risk of eye problems and hearing loss.
Vitiligo has no cure, but treatment can help stop or slow the pigment loss or restore some color to your skin. Treatment usually begins with a thyroid test to determine whether your thyroid is healthy, because treating thyroid disease will typically control vitiligo. When your thyroid isn’t the problem, treatment options include cosmetics to help camouflage lost skin color, topical prescription medications that add color to your skin, and laser light treatments.
The team at Easton Dermatology Associates use excimer laser treatments to restore color to skin affected by vitiligo. This cutting-edge technology uses a handheld device to send concentrated, precision beams of ultraviolet light directly to the affected areas. Because these devices don’t target healthy skin, they can deliver a high-dose treatment of ultraviolet light for faster clearing and a longer remission. Excimer laser treatments work best on facial skin, and are less effective on hands and feet.
About 70% of patients who are treated with excimer lasers will see significant results after several weeks of treatments. Although laser treatment may restore color to the affected skin, it’s important to note that it won’t prevent continued loss of color or recurrence.
At Easton Dermatology Associates, we accept most major insurance plans. Here is a list of some of the plans we accept. Please contact our office if you do not see your insurance provider listed.