Vitiligo (the word derives from the Latin word for defect or blemish - 'vitium') is a chronic skin condition where skin pigment cells - melanocytes - stop functioning or die. This process causes white spots or patches to appear on the skin, and it is most noticeable on darker skin.
Vitiligo affects less than 1% of the population, although rates are higher amongst darker-skin types. One in two people affected develops the condition before the age of 20, and most sufferers have the condition appear before they are 40 years old.
There are two types of vitiligo. Common vitiligo where only a few pale or white spots appear. Segmental vitiligo which usually affects children and is often just one patch of white or pale skin which grows quickly and then stops.
Medical science has not yet been able to determine what causes the condition; however, many studies point towards it being connected to the immune system and being caused by an immune response which destroys the melanocytes. The condition cannot be cured, but it can be controlled.
The careful application of accurately coloured cosmetics can improve the overall appearance of the skin but of course, takes time and regular (daily) application. An alternative is a semi-permanent 'micro-tattoo' which matches the healthy skin and generally lasts much longer (months to years).
Anti-inflammatory steroid or non-steroid creams
Treatment with Ultraviolet (UV) Light - generally a form called 'Narrowband UVB' - otherwise known as 'phototherapy' - which is quite different from the light used in solarium machines - is used to treat affected areas. It reduces the growth of patches and does achieve some repigmentation of affected skin.
Epidermal Cellular Grafting (non-cultured)
This technique involves the removal of a piece of skin from another part of the body and adding skin cells from this area to an area affected by vitiligo in a liquid suspension. These cells then attach themselves and repigment the skin. This technique is only suitable for smaller patches, but the new skin does match the person's healthy skin.
Depigmentation or skin bleaching using mono benzyl ether of hydroquinone is another option if vitiligo has affected substantial areas of skin (over 50%). A daily treatment program achieves results over 3-6 months.