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Last Medical Review: March 26, 2020
Medically Reviewed by Dr. David Costa Navarro
Vitiligo (March 26, 2020)

What is vitiligo?

Skin disease characterized by the appearance of white spots of different sizes. It is due to the destruction, for unknown reasons, of particular cells that have the task of producing the dark substance, called melanin, which colors the skin. The lack of melanin causes the skin to take on a very pale color.

How it manifests itself

  • Vitiligo affects about 1% of the population and typically appears before the age of 20.
  • The most affected parts are the face, neck and surfaces exposed to trauma, such as the hands, elbows, knees, ankles and feet.
  • It often begins with a rapid appearance of white spots, which can be followed by a fairly long period in which the disease does not worsen. The cycle can be repeated many times and in rare cases complete melanin loss can occur.
  • The spots are well delimited and often surrounded by a darker border.
  • The disease generally does not cause discoloration of the hair, hair or eyes.
  • It is very rare for a person affected by vitiligo to spontaneously regain normal skin color.

What are the risks

Vitiligo does not cause deterioration of health, but it can accompany some diseases, such as diabetes or thyroid dysfunction more frequently. It is easier, however, that light patches can “burn” when exposed to the sun. A risk that should not be underestimated is the emergence of psychological problems in people who become ill with vitiligo, who must be helped to overcome these problems by those who live next to them.

What should be done

  • Those suffering from vitiligo must protect themselves from excessive exposure to sunlight by wearing long clothes, not exposing themselves to the sun in the hottest hours, and applying creams or lotions containing sunscreen with a protection factor equal to 15 on the body.
  • Exposure to intense sunlight allowed for well-defined periods of time during particular therapies of vitiligo with drugs called psoralens, which are active only if you expose yourself to sunlight or an ultraviolet lamp.
  • During these periods of treatment it is good to protect yourself with factor 8-10 sunscreens, which avoid burns but allow the passage of the rays necessary for the action of the drug.
  • Sunscreens should be reapplied after a swim or in case of intense sweating.
  • People treated with psoralens must wear protective sunglasses to avoid eye damage when exposed to sunlight or artificial lamps or ultraviolet rays.

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