Kallgren Dermatology Clinic is a dermatology clinic in Boulder that treats patients for skin disorders of all types as well as treating visible signs of aging. In our last blog, we began looking at disorders of the skin that are related to pigment, starting with melasma, a darkening of the skin in patches. This week we’ll look at a disorder notable for a lack of pigment.

Vitiligo Symptoms and Risk Factors

One of the most known of these disorders is vitiligo.  While it affects just one to two percent of the population, the public became more aware of this skin disorder when it was revealed that pop superstar Michael Jackson suffered from it. The most notable symptom of this skin disorder is the presence of patches of skin that have no pigment. This discoloration usually occurs on the hands, around the mouth, eyes and nostrils, the navel, and the genital and rectal areas. Premature graying of the hair is also common.

Vitiligo spreads at an unpredictable rate. For some, it spreads slowly over years, while for others it spreads rapidly. Risk factors are having it in your family, having an autoimmune disorder, or having the thyroid disorder Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. While it occurs evenly through the population, on fair-skinned people, unpigmented patches may be hard to spot, but on people with darker skin, with for example, people of African American heritage, the contrast between the darker, pigmented skin and the pigment-free skin makes it far more noticeable.

The Root of Vitiligo

In every normal skin cell, there is melanin, which is a pigment. People with darker skin have a naturally higher amount of melanin. Melanin production is also triggered by the skin’s exposure to UV rays of the sun. In vitiligo, the melanin-forming cells die, causing the loss of pigment. The trigger behind the death of these cells has not been definitively found, but there does seem to be a correlation to autoimmune disorders.

Treatment of Vitiligo

Beyond drugs to suppress the autoimmune response, there are some medications that can help to restore the skin color or even out the tone. Anti-inflammatory creams and vitamin D are all used to treat vitiligo. Additionally, cosmetics and self-tanners can be used to hide the patches. Because exposure to UV rays of the sun are a trigger for the spread of vitiligo, protection from these rays with sunscreen is also advisable.

If you think you have vitiligo, call for an appointment with Kallgren Dermatology to get a definitive diagnosis and to start treatment.