The color of your skin (and hair) is determined by a pigment called melanin. So, when the cells that produce melanin stop functioning or die, you may begin to see lighter patches of skin on the body. Sometimes it’s just due to an acute incident (like a severe burn), but other times it has a deeper underlying issue that can show up across various parts of your body. One such condition is called vitiligo.
Everyone has melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin), however, they amount of melanin they produce affects the darkness of your skin. Darker skinned individuals have melanocytes that produce more pigment than lighter individuals.
Sometimes you wonder why vitiligo can be so unpredictable. Well, if the cells are malfunctioning, they may produce less melanin and patches can appear to spread, but at times these cells may kick into gear or are stimulated to produce melanin and you might see pigmentation reappear. This is what most medication aims to do – stimulate melanin production in the cells that aren’t dead, but just need a little inspiration (or a lot of inspiration) to produce pigment.
For this same reason, not every treatment is “effective” for everyone or for all parts of the same body. If your melanocytes are dead, there is little to no assistance that certain treatments can provide. Either way, understanding your options are important.
Here’s my little disclaimer: I will talk about different options, but I won’t name specific medications or brands because I do not endorse any one over another. I can, and do, urge you to consult your doctor about any interests or lack thereof for treatments, and make sure they do their homework and discuss with you all your options and latest research. Then you can make a more informed decision on how you are most comfortable proceeding.
So let’s start with the option of Medication. This form of treatment is usually given as a topical ointment or cream. Corticosteroid creams are used to control inflammation that might be hindering proper melanocyte function. They are easy to apply, but you must be watchful to notice if you experience thinning of your skin as the body is responding to the drug’s suppressive actions. Also, you must be patient for the long-term game. You have to suppress inflammation long enough to begin to see increased melanocyte function, which could take months.
Some ointments are used as treatments to target your immune system. Why? Well, when you have a foreign problem in your body (like a virus or a splinter), your body does not recognize it, and an alarm goes off to attack it in an attempt protect yourself. The swelling, redness, coughing, etc…are all mechanisms for your body to kill or expel the foreign issue or cells. That is an immune response. Sometimes your body gets whacky and these soldier cells start targeting good cells that are natural to your body. We don’t always know the cause for this misunderstanding, but now the cells you need are being attacked and dying. We call this an autoimmune disorder. Vitiligo falls in this category because sometimes the malfunction of your melanocytes are due to them being attacked from within. Ointments contain drugs that are absorbed into your skin and try to block the autoimmune reactions of the soldier cells.
I’ll pause there for now. While I’m not endorsing any particular medication or treatment, I most certainly welcome anyone to share a story of your experience – good, bad, or neutral. We are hear to celebrate with you in your triumphs and hope with you through your trials.
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