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Vitiligo: Tips for managing

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.

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. Skin that has lost its natural color tends to sunburn easily. A bad sunburn can worsen vitiligo.

If you have fair skin, there’s another advantage to protecting your skin from the sun. Without a tan, vitiligo is often barely noticeable.

For anyone who chooses to treat their vitiligo by having their remaining skin color removed, sun protection is essential. The sun can cause spots of color to form on your skin. To remove these spots, you will need to depigment your skin again.

To protect your skin from the sun, dermatologists recommend that you:

  1. Use sunscreen every day. You want to apply sunscreen to all skin that clothing will not cover. To get the protection you need, apply the sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outside.

    To get the protect you need, choose a sunscreen that offers all of the following:

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

    Use sunscreen every day

    When spending time outdoors, reapply sunscreen:

    • Every 2 hours
    • After spending time in the water
    • When you sweat
    African American family walking along beach splashing feet in the water
  2. Wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun. Clothing also has an SPF. When it comes to SPF, not all clothing is equal. A long-sleeve denim shirt gives you an SPF of about 1,700. T-shirts offer significantly less protection. A white t-shirt tends to give you SPF 7; whereas, a green t-shirt may give you SPF 10.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Add color to your skin safely. If you want to add color to your skin, consider using self-tanner, concealing cream, dye, or makeup.

    To get the best results from these products, dermatologists offer their patients these tips:

    • Select a water-proof product.
    • Want the color to last a while? Opt for a self-tanner or dye. These last longer than makeup.
    • Covering up white spots? Dyes work the best.
    • Choose a self-tanner that contains dihydroxyacetone.
    With practice, most people can get natural-looking results with these products.

  6. Do not get a tattoo. Getting a tattoo can cause something called 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

It helps to know about treatment options so that you know what is possible. Learning more about vitiligo can help you decide what treatment, if any, feels right for you. You may want to treat, camouflage, or just let the vitiligo be. Only you can decide what’s right for you.

It's important to see a dermatologist

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.

Woman with vitiligo sitting with knees to chest

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

Vitiligo support group
Discussions and articles on the DailyStrength website.

Related AAD resources

More resources

Getty Images

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