Vitiligo: Tips for managing

Dermatologists share the following tips with their patients who have vitiligo.

Protect your skin from the sun

Everyone who has vitiligo can benefit from sun protection. Here’s why:

  • Skin that has lost its color sunburns very easily.
  • A bad sunburn can worsen vitiligo.
  • If you have fair skin, avoiding a tan usually makes the vitiligo barely noticeable.
  • If you chose to treat vitiligo with depigmentation, that is removing the remaining color from your skin, the sun can cause spots of color to form on your skin. You will need to depigment your skin again to remove these spots of color.

To protect your skin from the sun, dermatologists recommend:

1. Use sunscreen.

Generously apply sunscreen every day to skin that will not be covered by clothing. Use a sunscreen that offers:

  • UVA/UVB protection (label may say “broad spectrum”)
  • A sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more
  • Water resistance

2. Apply sunscreen every day.

Be sure to apply it at least 15 minutes before going outdoors.

3. Reapply sunscreen when outdoors.

If you will be outdoors, be sure to reapply the sunscreen:

  • Every 2 hours, even on cloudy days.
  • After being in water or sweating.

4. Wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun.

Skin covered by clothing that has a high SPF does not need sunscreen. Not all clothing offers high SPF. A long-sleeve denim shirt has an SPF of about 1,700. A white t-shirt only has an SPF 7, and a green t-shirt has about an SPF 10.

You can boost the SPF of clothing, by adding a product that increases the SPF of clothing during the wash cycle. You add this product to the wash machine. The increase in SPF is usually good for about 20 washings.

5. Seek shade.

This is especially important when your shadow is shorter than you are. That’s when the sun’s damaging rays are at their strongest and you are likely to sunburn.

Do not use tanning beds and sun lamps.

These are not safe alternatives to the sun. These, too, can burn skin that has lost pigment.

If you want to add color to your skin, consider using a cosmetic.
Cosmetics can safely add color to your skin if you want to add color without undergoing treatment. Cosmetics that can add color are self-tanners, dyes, and makeup. Here are some tips that dermatologists offer their patients:

  • Select a water-proof product.
  • Self-tanners and dyes last longer than makeup.
  • Dyes work best for white spots.
  • When looking for a self-tanner, choose a product that contains dihydroxyacetone.
  • With practice, most people can achieve a natural look with a concealing cream or self-tanner.

Do not get a tattoo.

Getting a tattoo can cause something called Keobnerization or the Koebner phenomenon. What this means is when you wound your skin, which getting a tattoo does, a new patch of vitiligo can appear about 10 to 14 days later.

Learn about vitiligo.

Knowledge often improves a person’s quality of life. It helps to know about treatment options so that you know what is possible. Learning more about vitiligo can help you decide what feels right for you. You may want to treat it, camouflage with cosmetics, or just let it be. Only you can decide what’s right for you.

If you decide not to treat vitiligo, it’s still important to see a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis and physical. Vitiligo is a medical condition, not just a cosmetic concern.

Connect with others who have vitiligo.

The emotional aspects of having vitiligo are often overlooked, but they are real. If a child has vitiligo, other children may tease and bully. People can stare. Studies conclude that many people who have vitiligo have a decreased quality of life.

Connecting with others who have vitiligo can help. You will find links to support groups below:

Support groups

Vitiligo Support International
Message boards for major cities, local support groups that meet monthly giving you the opportunity to meet others living with vitiligo, and the chance to share support and experiences in person.

Vitiligo Friends
An online community where people living with vitiligo, their family, and their friends can share information and stay in touch. Can meet people worldwide.

Vitiligo support group
Discussions and articles on the DailyStrength website.

Related resources:

American Vitiligo Research Foundation

Learn more about vitiligo:

References:

American Academy of Dermatology. “Dermatologists encourage consumers to be “clothes” minded when it comes to selecting summer wardrobe.” News release issued May 2, 2005.

Halder RM. “Vitiligo.” Forum presented at the 2011 American Academy of Dermatology Annual Meeting: New Orleans. February 2011.

Linthorst Homan MW, Spuls PI, de Korte J et al. “The burden of vitiligo: patient characteristics associated with quality of life.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2009; 61: 411-20

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