Vitiligo is a skin condition in which the cells that produce the pigment, melanin, are destroyed. Melanin is responsible for giving the skin its color. When these cells, known as melanocytes, are destroyed, white spots appear on the skin in various areas of the body. Patches may also be noticed on the mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and retina. The hair present in the affected areas may also turn white.

Symptoms of Vitiligo

Patches of de-pigmentation are the most prominent symptom of vitiligo. These patches may be seen more commonly in areas of the body that are exposed to the sun such as the face, lips, arms, hands and feet. In some cases, white areas may also be noticed around the armpits, groin and rectum. Vitiligo tends to develop in any of three patterns. In the focal pattern, the de-pigmentation occurs in only one or few areas and does not spread. In the segmental pattern, the patches occur on one side of the body. In the generalized pattern, de-pigmentation is seen to occur in a symmetrical fashion on both sides of the body. The generalized pattern is the most common pattern of vitiligo. Individuals affected with vitiligo may also experience premature graying of the hair on the scalp, eyebrow, eyelashes and beard. There may be discoloration inside the mouth especially in people with darker skin. It is not possible to determine if a generalized pattern of vitiligo will spread to other parts of the body. In some cases, the white patches remain limited to just a few areas, while in other cases the disorder progresses and spreads over the years. Some people may experience a quicker spread of the disease. Further de-pigmentation may occur after periods of stress. Vitiligo is not an infectious disease and does not spread from one individual to another.

Causes of Vitiligo

Vitiligo affects the manner in which pigmentation occurs in the skin. It occurs when the functioning of the melanocytes is affected. When these cells are destroyed, there is loss of pigment in the skin and light patches start appearing. But what exactly triggers this de-pigmentation? The definite cause of this condition remains unknown, but there are some theories as to why vitiligo develops in some people. Vitiligo is known to be an autoimmune disorder where an individual’s immune system attacks the body’s own organs, cells and tissues. This is one of the most common explanations for why vitiligo occurs. Another reason could be self destruction of the melanocytes. Vitiligo is seen to run in families and hence a genetic link is also possible. In many cases, the onset of vitiligo has been associated with sunburn or periods of emotional stress.

Vitiligo is known to affect both sexes equally and racial or ethnic background also has no bearing on its occurrence. However, the condition is more noticeable in individuals with darker skin. It is known to be more common in individuals with autoimmune disorders such as hyperthyroidism, alopecia areata and pernicious anemia. Studies have also shown that about 30 percent of individuals with vitiligo have a family member with the condition.

Remedies for Vitiligo

The main emphasis of vitiligo treatment is to improve the appearance of the skin. Treatment for the condition usually continues for long periods of time. The type of treatment depends upon the size and number of white patches, location and extent. The response to treatment varies from case to case. Most vitiligo treatments involve topical application of medication. In topical steroid therapy, steroid creams are used to re-pigment the white patches. This kind of therapy is especially effective when done in the initial stages. You need to apply the cream to the affected areas for a minimum period of three months. Topical steroid therapy is known to be a safe and easy treatment. However there may be some side effects of these creams such as shrinkage or streaks on the skin.

Another type of treatment for vitiligo is PUVA or psoralen and ultraviolet A therapy. The chemicals contained in psoralen react with UV light and result in skin darkening. The drug may be used orally or topically. This is a time consuming treatment and may produce severe side effects. Following treatment, the areas have to be exposed to sunlight or a UV light lamp in carefully timed sessions. In case of a fewer white patches, topical psoralen photochemotherapy is used. This treatment can also be used for children aged 2 years and above. The main side effects of this therapy are blistering and sunburn. In individuals with extensive white patches or those who do not respond to other treatments, psoralen is administered orally. Side effects of this therapy may include nausea, vomiting, itching and sunburn.

In some cases, de-pigmentation is done to treat vitiligo. This involves lightening the rest of the skin so that it matches with the white patches. This is usually recommended for those who have more than half their bodies covered with white patches. It involves application of certain drugs on the skin. Direct skin to skin contact with others must be avoided for at least two hours after application as the drug may get transferred. Redness and swelling may occur due such treatment. Some people also experience dryness and itching. There is also likely to be an increased sensitivity to sunlight.

Natural remedies for vitiligo involve the use of turmeric and mustard oil. Combine about 5 teaspoons of powdered turmeric with 250 ml of mustard oil and apply the mixture to the faded areas twice daily. Basil leaves are believed to encourage the production of melanin in the skin and can be mixed with lime juice for treating vitiligo patches. Mix a few drops each of basil leaf extract and lime juice and apply this to the affected areas. This treatment is known to bring about improvement in 5 to 6 months. Another home remedy for vitiligo involves drinking water kept in a copper utensil. This is known to have a stimulating effect on the melanocytes and thus helps in increasing melanin production. The water must be kept in the copper utensil for a night. This is not an instant cure and the practice needs to be kept up for some time to yield any results. The herb Psoralen, which is also used in medical treatments of vitiligo, can even be used in home remedies. The seeds of Psoralea and tamarind may be soaked in water for about 4 days and then dried and ground into a paste. Apply the paste to the white matches for a month. It is advisable to use this remedy with guidance from an expert. Psoralea seeds may also be soaked in ginger juice for 2 to 3 days and then ground into a powder. Add one gram of the powder to a cup of milk and consume. You can keep this up for a period of two months to bring back the pigmentation in the white patches. Psoralea can also be combined with coconut oil, barberry roots and black cumin. Coconut oil is beneficial in the treatment of various skin conditions while black cumin boosts immunity. Barberry roots contain substances that help protect the skin. The ingredients may be combined to form a paste and this should be applied to the white patches daily for 6 months.

According to some natural health enthusiasts radish seeds can bring about regeneration of melanin. Add a couple of teaspoons of vinegar to powdered radish seeds and mix into a paste. You can apply the paste to the affected area daily for at least 6 months. The plant Mama Cadela has been traditionally used for the treatment of vitiligo patches. The root of the plant may be boiled in water and the extract can be applied to affected areas of skin. According to some in. The herb Ginkgo Biloba is a popular one used by herbalists for various health concerns. Some research indicates that this herb helps in limiting the progression of the disease and also assists in re-pigmenting the white patches. These effects may be possible due to the natural immunity boosting properties possessed by the herb. It is known to be more effective when taken orally rather than applied topically.

Diet for Vitiligo

The diet significantly influences the body’s resistance to various illnesses and infections. It is possible that skin disorders such as vitiligo occur more easily when nutrition is poor. There is no specific diet to be followed for improvement in vitiligo. But a nutritious and wholesome diet in general is a must for overall good health. Medical treatment for vitiligo tends to continue for long periods of time and during this time it is essential to keep the body healthy to aid in healing. Individuals affected with vitiligo should aim to consume healthy and balanced meals. Beneficial foods such as olive oil, black pepper and green tea should be incorporated into the daily diet.

Suggestion for Vitiligo

Individuals with vitiligo should avoid frequent or prolonged exposure to sunlight. It is advisable to protect the body with sun block creams and wear protective clothing when going outdoors.

Vitiligo - Frequently asked questions