June is Vitiligo Awareness Month.
Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin color in patches. The extent to which the skin is affected by color loss is unpredictable. The condition can affect the skin on any part of the body or hair.
Typically, the color of someone’s hair and skin is determined by the amount melanin in the hair or skin, and Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin die or stop functioning.
Vitiligo affects people of all skin types, but it may be more noticeable in people with darker skin tones.
There are lots of different colors of skin. Sometimes a person’s skin changes or loses some of its color in spots. This is called Vitiligo. Vitiligo is not something you can catch from someone else.
People with vitiligo need to wear sunscreen every day to protect their skin from sunburn. There are some medicines and things that people can try to get some of their skin color back if they want to. Sometimes the color comes back and sometimes it doesn’t. Having vitiligo doesn’t hurt a person’s skin, but sometimes people might have different feelings about their skin color changing.
One way you can be a good friend to someone with vitiligo is to let them tell you about their skin when they feel like talking about it or to let them stay quiet about their skin when they don’t feel like talking about it.
Our skin is made up of a lot of little building blocks called cells and different cells have different jobs.
One of the types of cells in our skin is in charge of the color or pigment in our skin. When Vitiligo happens, some of the skin cells that create color in the skin just stop producing it. Sometimes they stop making the color for a long time and sometimes they only stop for a short time and the color comes back after a little while.
Doctors aren’t sure exactly why vitiligo happens, but they have some ideas. They do know that it doesn’t come from a germ and you can’t catch it (and it is not contagious).
Even though skin that has vitiligo isn’t making all of the same pigment that it used to, it is healthy in every other way and can do most all its jobs. Skin that has vitiligo can still protect a body from germs and help regulate body temperature (like by sweating). The one thing it can’t do is protect itself from sunburn, so people with Vitiligo just need to wear sunscreen daily.
All types of skin need sunscreen; skin that does not have vitiligo has some natural protectors that help keep them safer from sunburn. Skin that has vitiligo is missing some of these natural protectors.
One way you could be a good friend to someone with vitiligo is ask them, “would it help if I sometimes answered other people’s questions about your skin with you? What would you like me to say?”
There are cells in our body called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin which is where the colors or pigment in our skin comes from. When someone has vitiligo some of their melanocytes aren’t producing melanin (or color) in certain parts of their skin.
Doctors think that this could have something to do with the immune system, but there is still a lot to learn about vitiligo and why it happens. The truest answer is we still aren’t completely sure why this happens. We do know that it doesn’t come from a virus or bacteria and that it isn’t anyone’s fault that it happens. We also know that it doesn’t indicate cancer.
Sometimes, but not often, vitiligo can be a signal that the body needs extra help in some other way such as another condition that requires medicine. So visiting a dermatologist and being examined properly is important.
Skin with vitiligo can still protect the body from outside elements like viruses and bacteria, but it cannot properly protect itself from the sun. This is because the pigment (or melanin) that our skin produces provides a natural shade for our insides. If the melanin cannot be produced to make shade, then that natural protection is missing. So, people that have vitiligo should wear a broad spectrum sunscreen every day.
It is otherwise healthy skin. One good way you can be a friend to someone with vitiligo is simply to treat them the way you would like to be treated. They may have days they feel good about their skin or days when they feel disappointed (just like everyone else!) you can be a good listener and be encouraging.