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Updated: March 23, 2013 17:19 IST

Protect your skin

DR. PRANJAL SHAMSHER
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Don't expose your skin to the harsh UV rays. Photo: S. Subramanium
The Hindu Don't expose your skin to the harsh UV rays. Photo: S. Subramanium

Vitiligo is neither contagious nor dangerous, but can have devastating effect on your skin.

In a society where being ‘fair’ is considered beautiful, losing skin colour, that too in patches can be a nightmare! Vitiligo is a skin condition in which melanocytes or the cells that produce pigment on the skin are completely destroyed. As a result the skin loses colour, often in patches.

Most people who suffer from vitiligo go through a lot of depression and mental trauma, as the condition affects the person’s appearance. Though vitiligo is not medically dangerous or contagious, its appearance on the skin can be devastating.

Vitiligo can be caused due to multiple reasons, like an autoimmune disorder when a person’s immune system becomes hyperactive and destroys the melanocytes; exposure to chemicals; severe sunburn or cut; stressful events or viral causes.

While a major symptom of vitiligo is the white patches on the skin, it can develop on any part of the body. It is mostly seen on skin that is exposed to the sun like face, arms, legs, lips, hands and feet or on skin that folds, like elbows, armpits, groin or knees. It can also be found on nostrils, navel and genital areas.

When these white patches appear, it is time to visit a dermatologist. The doctor might ask for medical history, find out if an immune system disorder is the cause or if vitiligo runs in the family. Also, he might suggest various tests to rule out other problems that might have caused the white patches.

The dermatologist may not always advise treatment. For people with light skin, avoiding the sun is enough to make vitiligo unnoticeable. Some people use make-up to cover the vitiligo.

Treatment options include exposing the affected skin or white patch to UVB lamps. This is a simple treatment which can be performed by the patient in the comfort of his/her home.

Another method is UVA light phototherapy. This needs to be done under medical supervision.

Several medicines like steroids and immunosuppressants are being used to treat vitiligo. Though these drugs are potent they don’t always work on all patients.

However, with the recent advances in technology, stem cell therapy has come as a boon to those suffering from vitiligo. Stem cell therapy helps patients get back their original skin colour. As stem cells have immunosuppressive and immune modulatory properties, vitiligo patients can be almost confident of being completely cured.

Though it differs from person to person, the psychological impact of having to live with vitiligo can be devastating, especially if the white patches are on the face. Just as in many other skin diseases, loss of self-confidence and social alienation are common. The advent of new tests, treatments and therapies are proving to be a boon and has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of patients.

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