There are many different conditions that can affect the pigmentation of your skin. Vitiligo, the condition that Michael Jackson famously suffered from, causes white patches to develop on your skin. Here are four things you need to know about this condition.
What causes vitiligo?
Melanin is the pigment responsible for the color of your skin, hair, and the irises of your eyes. This pigment is produced by skin cells called melanocytes. Sometimes, the melanocytes stop working, and no more melanin is produced. When this happens, patches of your skin will become white.
Researchers still aren't sure why this happens. Their theories include causes like your immune system, your family history, or even something as simple as a sunburn, but more studies are needed to find out for sure.
Is vitiligo dangerous?
It's common knowledge that fair-skinned people are more likely to develop skin cancer than dark-skinned people are, so you may be worried that vitiligo will increase your risk of developing deadly cancers like melanoma. Fortunately, this doesn't appear to be the case. A study in the Netherlands found that people with vitiligo were less likely to develop skin cancer than the general population.
This doesn't mean that you can't get skin cancer, so you should still take precautions like wearing sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, and staying out of the sun at midday. What it means is that you don't need to worry too much about vitiligo since it's a cosmetic issue.
How common is vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a fairly common problem throughout the world. According to the American Vitiligo Research Foundation, between 1% and 2% of people have the condition globally. It affects people of all races, genders, and ages equally, though the white patches are more obvious on people with dark skin.
How do dermatologists treat it?
You don't need to treat your vitiligo at all if you don't want to, but if the white spots are bothering you, your dermatologist can help. Your dermatologist may recommend using things like makeup or self-tanner to camouflage the white spots, or they may prescribe medicated creams that will darken your skin. Light therapy can also be used to re-pigment your skin; your dermatologist will expose your white patches to UVB light to darken them.
Vitiligo is a common condition that causes white patches to develop on your skin. It's not dangerous, but if the patches are making you feel self-conscious, talk to a dermatologist about treating them. Click here to learn more about dermatology.