Everything you need to know about Vitiligo
If you’re one of the 1 in 100 people in the UK that have a striking pigmentation variation across their skin you might just be living with the autoimmune condition: Vitiligo. You’d probably recognise it from one of the catwalk’s most famous faces, Winnie Harlow. She’s made a living out of exploiting her striking patches of pale skin that adorn her face and is now recognised as one of the world’s greatest supermodels.
In 2019 she became the first model with Vitiligo to ever be featured in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, changing the industry as we know it and now there’s even a Barbie with Vitiligo. Whilst it might be (now) easily identifiable, confusion around the condition remains ever present. Here we break down the basics of what having Vitiligo means, how to identify it, potential causes, complications and (if you choose to) the best treatments options…
WHAT IS IT?
According to the British Skin Foundation, Vitiligo is a chronic condition where areas of the skin lose their normal pigment, becoming very pale often in complete contrast to the skin’s natural tone. Put simply, the disorder causes the skin to lose its natural colour which results in patches of lighter skin that can appear anywhere on the head or body. It most commonly first presents itself in exposed areas of the body such as the hands, upper chest, arms and face, but it can also affect body folds, sites of damage (such as cuts), around body openings and even pigmented moles.
Despite being a lifelong condition those who live with the condition were not born with the depigmentation. The distinctive patches often develop later on in early adulthood and usually set in place before the age of 20. Incredibly, the lightening of the skin is usually the only symptom but in rarer cases other signs of Vitiligo can include premature greying of the hair (on eyelashes and eyebrows, too).
WHAT CAUSES IT?
The bad news is the exact causes of Vitiligo are still unknown, although it is thought that it comes down to a faulty autoimmune response within the body. The theory goes that the condition is present when the body destroys the melanin or pigment producing cells (melanocytes), killing them off and leading to depigmentation in that area. Consequently, the melanocytes in the top layer of the skin stop working in these areas, leading to the distinctive patches.
In non-medical terms, that means that either something inside the body (the jury is still out as to what) prompts the body to attack its own pigment or a person’s melanocytes are inherently defective and unable to fully function. Whilst there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what actually causes the first flare up, anecdotally many people report some form of trauma, sunburn or period of illness before an onset of the condition. It’s thought that Vitiligo can in some circumstances be triggered by a combination of genetics and environment.
VITILIGO AND PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS.
Sadly, despite being non life-threatening and non-contagious, one of the most common side effects is psychological. In today’s world anything that affects our appearance can be intrinsically linked to our self-esteem, our emotions and the way we interact with others. Often the connection between our appearance and our psychological health is as complex as it is common. The impact of the condition and the issues it presents can have a profound impact on sufferers quality of life and can worsen over time if left untreated. If you’re reading this and it’s hitting home you may choose to embark on a journey to treat your condition…
For most mild cases, there’s often no ‘need’ to treat Vitiligo however, as we touched on earlier if you’re starting to suffer psychologically or if the condition suddenly expands rapidly you may want to seek out methods to lessen the symptoms.
Often topical creams (read: steroids) and ointments are prescribed to be applied to the area but these only reduce the effects and fail to address the underlying cellular issues at play. Immunosuppressive drugs are sometimes prescribed but cannot be effectively used long-term and often the condition ‘returns’ when the medication is stopped. With this in mind, treatment options for Vitiligo are currently somewhat limited, that is until now…
Enter: Exciplex, the pioneering new light therapy treatment for autoimmune skin conditions including Vitiligo. We know what you’re thinking, light therapy can have some unwanted side effects such as premature ageing and even developing cancerous skin cells if not used correctly. The Exciplex innovative hand held technology is backed by over 180 clinical trials and uses ultraviolet light to specifically target individual lesions without affecting the surrounding skin.
The UVB rays penetrate the skin and slows the growth of the affected skin cells leading to treatment of the condition on a cellular level. The narrow treatment window leaves the surrounding skin unaffected, allowing the Exciplex to adhere to the highest safety standards as it eliminates the need to treat healthy cells. Unlike other light therapy treatments on the market, Exciplex treatment sessions are quick and completely pain free. Instead of expensive and time consuming treatment options your trained technician would typically recommend a course of twice weekly treatments which are completed in minutes. In some cases, cases have dramatically improved by over 50% after only 12 weeks of treatment.
Sounds like a dream come true? Get in touch with us to find your nearest clinic offering the Exciplex treatment and get ready to work your way to being symptom free. If you enjoyed this week’s topic then be sure not to miss the last of our three installments all about combating different autoimmune disorders.