Managing the Skin-Whitening Condition Vitiligo

Dr. Hirshel Kahn

Vitiligo usually does not cause physical harm. That said, the emotional toll can be quite severe.

January 2018 – Winnie Harlow’s striking appearance regularly turns heads. The fan-fave from America’s Next Top Model – face of the Spanish fashion brand Desigual – has more than one million Instagram followers. This embrace was impossible for Harlow to imagine when she was younger – and left high school to escape peer torment over her unusual appearance: vividly contrasting dark and light patches of skin covering her body, the result of the skin condition vitiligo. “Vitiligo usually does not cause physical harm,” notes Dr. Hirshel Kahn, a dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC. “That said, the emotional toll can be quite severe.”

Researchers are still working to unravel the genetic mystery of vitiligo, which causes patients to lose melanocyte skin cells. “Melanocytes produce the pigment that gives skin its color,” explains Dr. Kahn. “Without them, our skin is white.”

According to the Vitiligo Research Foundation, as many as two percent of the world’s population suffers from the condition, with most experiencing what is known as “nonsegmental” or “generalized” vitiligo, where patches of skin on both sides of the body lose pigment, often in a symmetrical pattern. “Vitiligo is not contagious,” says Dr. Kahn. “With nonsegmental vitiligo, an autoimmune response appears to be at work, with the body destroying its own melanocytes. Family history seems to be a risk factor, but many patients do not have relatives with the condition.”

For patients, part of the challenge of coping with vitiligo is its unpredictability: The condition typically appears without warning, with about half of patients developing symptoms by the time they’re 21, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. After its onset, start-and-stop skin whitening episodes can take place without warning.

Ongoing research, Dr. Kahn points out, may provide the key to preventing the skin’s loss of pigment cells.

To manage vitiligo he suggests the following: 5 Recommendations for Managing Vitiligo

1. See a doctor as soon as you suspect vitiligo: “In almost all cases,” Dr. Kahn emphasizes,…

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