Vitiligo is a poorly understood condition that isn’t all that common, meaning that science and public perception are woefully lacking when it comes to handling the disease. Since many vitiligo treatments benefit from UV light, you might be wondering if treatment works in the wintertime.
Vitiligo is a condition in which skin loses all of its pigmentation in one or multiple areas. It happens when the cells responsible for giving skin its pigmentation, melanocytes, die off or stop working. Scientists believe this condition is often hereditary and is generally linked to autoimmune disease. One likely explanation is that the body’s immune system mistakes melanocytes as foreign and attacks them. Vitiligo is usually not harmful to one’s health, with a few exceptions. Vitiligo, if it spreads to the eyes or inner ear, can cause vision and hearing problems. While this is not common, it can happen, so early intervention is best when vitiligo appears on the head. Additionally, vitiligo opens one up to more severe sun damage. While melanin doesn’t negate ultraviolet light in the sun, the complete absence of it does lead to more severe sunburns. People with vitiligo should wear strong sunscreen or cover up affected skin whenever they’re outside, all year round. Vitiligo is responsible for a great deal of social anxiety, and it can really negatively impact one’s self perception. So even if your vitiligo doesn’t threaten your physical health, it can still cause harm.
Your dermatologist is an indispensable asset for safely and effectively treating vitiligo. When you catch vitiligo early, you may be able to simply use topical corticosteroids on the affected skin. These can help give your melanocytes a needed boost, meaning that pigmentation loss slows or halts. With quickly advancing vitiligo, sometimes injections or oral medications may also be prescribed. Some medications that suppress the immune response have been effective at treating vitiligo, especially when it’s not widespread and on the face and neck.
Psoralen is another drug that can be topically or orally prescribed, and it works by making your skin photosensitive. This means that the treated skin is even more receptive to ultraviolet light. By exposing the medicated patches of depigmented skin to UV radiation, color can be restored in a controlled setting. Combining light therapy with immunosuppressants is a riskier treatment, because this increases your likelihood of developing skin cancer.
So when is it best to treat vitiligo? There is a good reason for a question this specific, even if at first the idea of an unsafe season for treating vitiligo sounds strange. Many vitiligo treatments benefit from the skin’s exposure to some sunlight. Ultraviolet light in controlled and safe environments can help even out skin pigmentation when used in tandem with certain topical medications and oral drugs. So that may lead you to believe that spring and summer are the best for treating vitiligo. That’s when we get the most sunlight, and therefore the most opportunities to expose our skin to it and try to regain some melanin, right? Not entirely. It’s important to get some exposure to ultraviolet light for vitiligo, but in controlled, scientifically balanced settings. There is far too much uncertainty in trying to reduce your vitiligo with sunbathing. It is not safe. So summer is actually not the best time to treat vitiligo or take drugs that cause photosensitivity. Winter, when we are bundled up and covering our skin when outdoors and able to use lightboxes and other forms of light therapy indoors, is the best and safest season for treating vitiligo.
So now that you know how vitiligo works, how it’s treated, and when it’s most effectively treated, what are you waiting for? Call the experts at Pacific Dermatology Specialists today and get your vitiligo treatment started!