What Causes Vitiligo to Worsen?

vitiligo phototherapyMelanocytes are the cells responsible for making skin pigment. In vitiligo, melanocytes are damaged, resulting in a loss of pigment and the appearance of white patches.

There are numerous theories about what causes vitiligo, but majority of scientists agree that in most cases, vitiligo is an autoimmune condition. That is to say that white patches and other symptoms of vitiligo are a result of the body’s immune system attacking the melanocytes. Various types of vitiligo may have different causes.

But, while genes evidently influence the risk of vitiligo, they are not the sole culprit. We know this since identical twins, who, for the most part share the same DNA, do not necessarily get vitiligo if one twin has it.


If genes are not the perpetrator, what causes it?

This has been enquired for other autoimmune diseases as well, and usually, the response is environmental factors.


What are these environmental factors?

Most clinicians assume that these factors are viruses, which we are often exposed to. Still, we have never been able to confirm a virus as an environmental factor, at least for vitiligo.

Nevertheless, one fascinating environmental factor was identified in a large proportion of factory workers who got vitiligo back in 1939. These factory workers made leather, and wore rubber gloves to keep their hands from the chemicals used in the process. However, it turned out that the chemical used to make the gloves is what induced their vitiligo. The chemical is referred to as monobenzone.

It was so effective that it is now used to remove the remaining pigment from the skin of those with extensive vitiligo to make it even. Dermatologists prescribe it as Benoquin cream.


Does vitiligo get worse with age?

Vitiligo is a lifetime condition. In some patients, the areas of pigmentation are later restored, whilst others may experience worsening of their vitiligo with time. It is unknown whether or not it really gets worse with age because each case is always unique.


Is vitiligo made worse by eating certain combinations of food?

Vitiligo seems to be completely unaffected by food choices.


Do lifestyle habits affect the worsening of vitiligo?

People with vitiligo may find that some strategies help limit depigmentation. In general, dermatologists recommend protecting the skin from the sun. Depigmented skin is more delicate and can easily get sunburnt.

Likewise, areas of depigmentation are more likely to spread following a bad sunburn. Dermatologists advise the use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which provides the most coverage. It is also ideal to use waterproof sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30.

Other means to reduce exposure to sunlight include seeking shade whenever possible and wearing clothing that protects the skin from the sun.

Tattoos can also worsen depigmentation. People who have vitiligo and get a tattoo may see a new area of depigmentation on their skin a few weeks after getting inked.


Can you treat vitiligo?

There are more than a few options for treating the loss of skin pigmentation in vitiligo. Phototherapy with UVB light is a common treatment choice. Home treatment entails the use of a small phototherapy lamp that can be used daily, making it more effective.

If treatment is done in a clinic, this would need 2 to 3 visits a week and the treatment time would be longer. UVB phototherapy, combined with other treatments, can have a positive outcome on vitiligo. Check with your dermatologist if UVB therapy is an option for you.