The month of June is observed as Vitiligo Awareness Month. The World Vitiligo Day, observed on June 25, is an initiative aimed to build global awareness about vitiligo. Vitiligo occurs in 1-2% of the population worldwide; a loss of color in the skin creating a variety of patterns on the skin from loss of pigment.
Vitiligo is often called a disease instead of a disorder and that can have a significant negative social and/or psychological impact on patients, in part because of numerous misconceptions still present in large parts of the world.
Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder characterized by patches of the skin losing their pigment. This occurs when melanocytes, the pigment-producing skin cells, are attacked and destroyed, turning the skin milky white.
In autoimmune diseases, proteins known as autoantibodies target the body’s own healthy tissues by mistake, signaling the body to attack them.
The patches of skin affected by vitiligo become white and usually appear on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, like the face, hands, and arms.
The main symptom of vitiligo is loss of natural color or pigment, called depigmentation. The depigmented patches can appear anywhere on your body and can affect:
People with vitiligo can also develop:
Vitiligo can appear at any age and can affect anyone. For many people with vitiligo, the white patches start to show up before the age of 20, and they can even start as early as childhood.
A person with vitiligo occasionally may have family members who also have the disease.
June is dedicated to raising awareness about vitiligo and empowering those living with the condition. If you or someone you know has vitiligo, here are some things to keep in mind.
First, vitiligo is not contagious. It does not spread from person to person. The cause of vitiligo is still unknown, but it likely involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Vitiligo is not related to any lifestyle choices.
Second, while there is no cure for vitiligo, some treatments like phototherapy or surgical procedures like skin grafting can be effective at stopping the progression and reversing its effects, which may help skin tone appear more even.
Wearing sunscreen daily is also important to prevent damaging sunburn. As people with vitiligo lack melanin in the affected depigmented areas, they are more susceptible to sunburn. Additional sun protective measures like wearing protective clothing or seeking shade can be helpful in preventing sunburn.
Third, those living with vitiligo should embrace self-acceptance. Vitiligo does not affect a person’s health, lifespan, and most definitely self worth. Models with vitiligo like Winnie Harlow have gone on to embrace the uniqueness of their skin, landing her on the covers of magazines like Vogue and Cosmopolitan.
Finally, everyone should work to reduce the stigma surrounding vitiligo. We should avoid assumptions, educate ourselves, and be sensitive with our words and actions.
With more awareness and understanding, we can foster a more inclusive environment for all. Vitiligo does not diminish a person’s value or worth-we are more than just our skin.