Vitiligo – the facts about this rare skin condition
Vitiligo is a long-term condition where pale, white patches develop on the surface of the skin. It occurs when cells called ‘melanocytes’ die or stop producing melanin – the colour pigment in our skin.
Vitiligo can affect any area of the body, but it most commonly occurs on the face, neck, hands and in skin creases. In rare cases, it can also affect the hair and inside of the mouth. The affected patches of skin become lighter or white in colour, creating a distinct difference in skin tone.
The severity of the condition can vary, meaning vitiligo can either cause minor changes or extensive changes in the skin’s appearance.
CAUSES AND PREVALENCE
Vitiligo occurs in 1.5 percent of the population. Thirty percent of people with the condition have a family history of vitiligo and people with an ancestral history of endocrine diseases and connective tissue diseases are also at a higher risk of developing it. About half of those affected will begin showing symptoms before the age of twenty.
The cause of this skin condition is somewhat unknown, but doctors believe vitiligo to be a hereditary autoimmune condition, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys certain cells within the body.
Particular events are often cited as the trigger, such as excess stress, severe sunburn, or skin trauma through contact with a dangerous chemical.
Unlike eczema and psoriasis, vitiligo is not painful and does not have significant health consequences. However, like any skin condition, it can, of course, have emotional and psychological repercussions.
VITILIGO IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Michael Jackson first spoke publicly about his emotional battle as a result of suffering from vitiligo in an interview with Oprah in 1993.
Refuting allegations that he’d been bleaching his skin, Jackson confessed: “I have a skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of the skin. It is something I cannot help, OK? But when people make up stories that I don’t want to be what I am it hurts me. It’s a problem for me that I can’t control.”
According to those closest to him, Jackson found coping with vitiligo an incredibly humiliating, personal challenge and one that he went to great lengths to hide by wearing long-sleeve shirts and his trademark sunglasses, hat, mask and gloves.
Medical treatments can reduce the severity of the condition, but it’s notoriously problematic to cure. The good news is, it is possible for the colour pigment to return to the skin. In one out of every five to ten people, some or all of the pigment eventually returns on its own and the white patches disappear.
Commonly prescribed medical treatments for vitiligo include steroid creams although, as with so many skin complaints, these corticosteroids are not guaranteed to be effective and they can thin the skin with continued use.
Just as with psoriasis, UV treatment is sometimes recommended. UVB therapy or PUVA – using drugs that cause skin to darken when they react with ultraviolet light – are prescribed by the doctor.
For people with severe forms of vitiligo, skin bleaching can be used to even out skin tone. This treatment is only ever recommended in exceptional circumstances, because skin with missing pigment is so vulnerable to damage from sun exposure.
Surgical skin grafts might also be used in extreme situations, but they are usually avoided due to the potential formation of lots of scar tissue.
A NATURAL AID
So, if vitiligo is rare and if scientists are uncertain as to what causes the condition, or even which medical treatments might be appropriate, how do we go about considering natural healing options?
When struggling with any skin complaint, my first course of action would be to look at changing your diet. Interestingly, preliminary observations suggest that the presence of gluten in the diet may play a role in vitiligo development. High-fat diets have also been shown to escalate the risk of vitiligo, but to date the benefits of vitiligo-specific diets have not been studied.
The role of oral supplements, including vitamins, minerals, and botanicals, is increasingly being considered as adjuncts to conventional medical treatment due to their antioxidant and immune-modulatory activity.
A balanced diet can help strengthen the immune system and, in patients with vitiligo, zinc is particularly important. Studies show that levels of zinc are often low in patients with skin disease and vitiligo is no exception. Zinc supplementation can stimulate the healing process of our skin. Recommended food sources include tofu, hemps seeds, lentils, oatmeal, peas, spinach and avocado.
As well as zinc, vitamin C deficiency has been referenced in patients with vitiligo. Lots of fruits and vegetables contain high levels of vitamin C, so you might like to consider eating or juicing more lemons, kiwis, broccoli and other rich sources.
A 2018 study revealed that papaya juice can be helpful in treating vitiligo through replenishing the body’s melanin cells. Besides eating it, mashed papaya can be rubbed onto those patches of skin affected by missing pigment.
As well as diet, stress is commonly cited as a vitiligo cause. Working on stress reduction through simple techniques such as meditation targets the trigger and can put a stop to patches getting worse.
Since ancient times, herbal products have been used in the treatment of skin conditions. Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest trees on Earth and its leaves and seeds are common in herbal medicine. Ginkgo extracts have been shown to be effective for the treatment of different conditions, such as allergies, varicose veins, premenstrual syndrome, headaches, and vertigo. Over the past few years, Gingko extracts have also been used for the treatment of vitiligo.
Recent data also suggests that Green Tea polyphenols may be useful for treating vitiligo, by stopping the oxidative stress on melanin production.
So, taking Ginkgo and Green Tea Extracts might be an effective, natural way to treat vitiligo and both can be taken as daily supplements.
If you’re struggling with vitiligo and feeling self-conscious about your skin, cosmetic camouflage make-up can help to even out skin tone whilst you focus on healing.
Spray tan products and heavy foundation-based cosmetics are also used when vitiligo affects skin in highly visible areas, such as the hands, face or neck.
When it comes to protecting the skin, the most important course of action is to shield affected areas of vitiligo from the sun. With a lack of pigment, those areas become vulnerable and susceptible to burn easily. Wear protective clothing or use a sunscreen (minimum SPF 30) to prevent any long-term damage to your skin.
Hanna Sillitoe began sharing her personal battle with skin health through an online food blog, which eventually led to her best-selling book Radiant – Recipes to Heal Skin from Within. Hanna’s book has sold over 25,000 copies around the world and it’s the 28-day plan within this book that many of her online followers credit as having cured their skin complaints.
Use code BALANCE10 for your 10% discount at www.HannaSillitoe.com
Skin Healing Expert: Your 5 pillar plan for calm, clear skin by Hanna Sillitoe will be published by Kyle Books, 14th May 2020, £19.99 and is available for pre-order now.