Vitiligo skin care tips
Millions of people worldwide have vitiligo, a condition that causes the skin to lose its natural color, resulting in patches of light skin. Although the white or light patches do not typically cause other symptoms, the condition can cause low self-esteem and depression in patients.
Although there is no cure for vitiligo, these tips from board-certified dermatologists can help make vitiligo less visible and prevent the condition from spreading.
How do I prevent vitiligo from getting worse?
Vitiligo can be unpredictable. Focusing on behaviors that you can control may help you feel better. That’s why board-certified dermatologists share the following tips with their patients who have vitiligo.
Protect your skin from the sun. Skin that has lost its natural color tends to sunburn easily. A bad sunburn can worsen vitiligo.
If you have a lighter skin tone, there’s another advantage to protecting your skin from the sun. Without a tan, the lighter spots and patches are often less noticeable.
To protect your skin from the sun, dermatologists recommend that you:
- Seek shade. This is especially important when your shadow is shorter than you are. When you see a short shadow, the sun’s damaging rays are at their strongest.
- Wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun. The right clothing offers you one of the best ways to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. To find out which clothes give you the best protection, go to What to wear to protect your skin from the sun.
- Use sunscreen every day when you will be outside. You want to apply sunscreen to all skin that clothing will not cover. To get the protection you need, wear sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, water-resistance, and SPF 30 or higher.
If you have a darker skin tone, you may want to use a sunscreen that’s also tinted. A tinted sunscreen won’t leave a white cast on your skin.
For sunscreen to protect you, you need to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outside. You also need to reapply your sunscreen. When outdoors, reapply it every two hours, after spending time in the water, and when sweating.
The light patches of vitiligo sunburn easily
Sun protection can prevent a bad sunburn, which can worsen vitiligo.
Never use a tanning bed or sun lamp. These are not safe alternatives to the sun. These, too, can burn skin that has lost pigment and worsen vitiligo.
Avoid cuts, scrapes, and burns. For some people, a skin injury triggers new spots or patches. Do your best to avoid injuring your skin.
If you want to add color to your skin, use camouflage makeup, self-tanner, or skin dye. These products can add color safely.
To help their patients get the best results from these products, dermatologists give their patients the following advice:
- Use a waterproof product.
- Know that self-tanners and skin dyes last longer than makeup.
- Choose a self-tanner or skin dye that contains dihydroxyacetone.
- Getting natural-looking results takes practice.
If you decide not to treat vitiligo, it’s still important to see a dermatologist
Vitiligo is a medical condition, not just a cosmetic concern.
Know the risks of getting a tattoo. While it can be tempting to cover up a light spot or patch with a tattoo, this can cause problems.
When you get a tattoo, you wound your skin. A wound can lead to something called the Koebner phenomenon, which causes new spots of vitiligo to develop where you injured your skin. The new spots and patches appear about 10 to 14 days after the injury.
If you get a tattoo to add pigment to your skin, there’s also a risk that the tattoo won’t blend in with your natural skin color or that the color will eventually bleed. The vitiligo that you’re trying to cover up can also spread over time.
Support your immune system with a healthy lifestyle. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease. This means that your immune system is attacking healthy cells.
To support your immune system, dermatologists recommend that you reduce stress and eat a balanced, nutritious diet.
Stress can cause new vitiligo patches to appear. Some effective ways to reduce stress include deep breathing, meditation, and exercise.
Take care of your mental health. If you feel depressed or self-conscious about changes to your appearance, tell your dermatologist. To help you feel better, your dermatologist may recommend counseling or a support group.
Learn about vitiligo. Knowing about treatment, what can cause vitiligo to spread, and other facts can help you decide what’s right for you. Knowledge also allows you to play an active role in your care, which some people say helps them feel more in control.
Connect with others who have vitiligo. The emotional aspects of having vitiligo are often overlooked, but they are real.
Joining a support group allows you to connect with others who have vitiligo
Many people say that having support helps them feel less lonely, stressed, or depressed.
While self-care can help you feel better, it’s also important to see a board-certified dermatologist. Having vitiligo increases the risk of developing some other diseases like thyroid disease. A dermatologist can assess your risk and help with the diagnosis. If you have another disease other than a skin disease, your dermatologist can refer you to a doctor who can treat the disease.
You can locate a dermatologist in your area by going to Find a dermatologist.
Related AAD resources
American Academy of Dermatology. “Dermatologists share skin care tips for people with vitiligo.” News release issued 6/11/2019. Last accessed 2/25/2022.
Rodrigues M, Ezzedine K, et al. “Vitiligo Working Group. Current and emerging treatments for vitiligo.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2017 Jul;77(1):17-29.
Manga P, Elbuluk N, et al. “Recent advances in understanding vitiligo.” F1000Res. 2016 Sep 6;5.
Paula Ludmann, MS
Kesha Buster MD, FAAD
Sandy Marchese Johnson, MD, FAAD
Bassel Hamdy Mahmoud, MD, PhD, FAAD
Last updated: 6/29/22