Vitiligo is a skin condition that is not life-threatening but can significantly lower your self-confidence and the way you view yourself. Vitiligo only affects about 1% of the population, and here is everything you need to know about this condition.
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1. Causes of vitiligo
Despite not being the most exotic or rare skin condition, vitiligo is often considered to be underresearched. In a few words, vitiligo is a condition where a person’s immune system attacks melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin, which gives a person their skin colour. As a result, the person begins developing discolorated patches in their skin.
Researchers now know how vitiligo affects the skin, but they don’t know why it is happening yet. Vitiligo is still being actively studied, but the following causes of vitiligo currently look the most probable:
- Severe skin trauma from a major sunburn or cut.
- Genetic condition: if your closest relatives have vitiligo, there is a higher chance you will develop it sometime in the future.
- Autoimmune diseases that cause the immune system to act violently towards melanocytes.
- Exposure of the skin to harsh chemicals.
- Stress or psychological trauma, especially if it has been going on for a long time.
The important thing to know about vitiligo is that it’s not contagious, which means you cannot get it from someone who has vitiligo and you cannot infect anyone if you are the one suffering from vitiligo. There is a certain stigma surrounding people with vitiligo, and spreading the information that vitiligo is not contagious should relieve some of that stigma.
2. Symptoms of vitiligo
There is only one symptom of vitiligo you should know about – it’s the appearance of white flat patches on your skin. Typically, the first symptoms of vitiligo manifest themselves when the patient is around 20 years old. People with vitiligo are most likely to develop the first discolorated patch in the area that is frequently exposed to the sun: it can be the face, hands, or chest area. If you develop a vitiligo spot in the area that is covered by hair, you can notice the hair growing from the patch also become white.
Over time, the small white patches of vitiligo can grow and join each other to form larger white areas. The good news is that apart from visual changes, vitiligo does not bring any discomfort to your skin. You should not experience any itchiness, soreness, or dryness in the affected areas, and they should feel exactly the same to the touch as the areas that have not been affected. Sometimes, however, you may experience itchiness at the edges of a vitiligo patch. In that case, the edges will be slightly red and a good soothing cream should relieve the discomfort.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for vitiligo and it’s typically a lifelong condition. If you already have vitiligo or face an increased risk of developing vitiligo if it runs in your family, make sure to wear a powerful sunscreen every time you are outside, staying inside during the hottest hours, and protecting your skin with clothes and headwear to avoid the sun making your condition worse. Some people choose to cover individual vitiligo patches with tattoos, and others prefer to achieve a lighter skin tone to match the areas affected by vitiligo.
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