The Stigma Surrounding Vitiligo
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This rare skin disorder affects just about 1% of the world’s population, and its rarity plays a part in the large amount of untrue information that people have about it. Vitiligo is when the body’s melanin-producing cells in the skin (called melanocytes) are slowly destroyed by the body, resulting in white/un-coloured patches of skin that usually grow larger through the person’s lifetime. Melanin is the dark pigment our skin cells produce which gives us our skin colour, as well as provide a certain level of protection from UV radiation. The condition lasts a lifetime and patches will often start on the hands, feet and face, changing shape and growing with time. Many people who have this skin disorder face social stigma due to a poor understanding of the disease. Let’s understand it better and disprove the myths:
MYTH: Mixed race parents results in patchy skin children
Although extremely foolish, this myth still gets some traction from people who have a poor understanding of genetics (and usually have suspect ideas on race). People with this disease have normal skin at birth, but also parental ethnicity has nothing to do with the way this disorder operates. Usually, the patches that are the main symptom of vitiligo, start showing up before the age of 20 (in some cases later).
MYTH: People with lighter skin don’t get vitiligo
While the patches of unpigmented skin are harder to notice (and easier to mask with cosmetics) in lighter skin patients, the disorder affects people of all skin colours. This myth is purely down to the fact that light patches are more noticeable of darker skin.
MYTH: Vitiligo is related to other skin diseases
No, vitiligo is a skin condition that occurs because of an autoimmune reaction where the body itself destroys melanocytes (melanin-producing cells). It has NOTHING to do with leprosy (caused by bacteria), skin cancer (various causes like UV radiation, genetics, etc.), or albinism (genetic defect where no melanin is produced from birth).
MYTH: Keep distance as Vitiligo is spreadable
False, Vitiligo is not a disease that can be spread through close contact or touch. This skin condition is simply a faulty autoimmune response that destroys your pigment (colour) producing cells. There is usually nothing harmful or life-threatening with this condition, as most of the symptoms of Vitiligo are just external patches. VITILIGO CANNOT BE SPREAD FROM ONE PERSON TO ANOTHER.
MYTH: Certain foods make Vitiligo worse
Think about it, have you ever eaten any food that changed your skin colour? There seems to be zero factual or scientific proof that any food or combination of foods makes vitiligo worse (or better). Some people with this skin condition self-report that certain foods (bananas, apples, chickpeas), as well as certain natural preparations like various herb mixtures, help to improve their vitiligo. Others say things like alcohol, citrus, fish or wheat products make the patches worse. However, none of this is backed by any actual evidence or doctors around the world. Since vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder, there may be some benefit to foods with antioxidants and phytochemicals but even this is not backed by any scientific evidence.
MYTH: Applying oils and herbal treatments to the skin will lessen the patches
There is no known oil or cream that can reduce or cure vitiligo patches. Similarly, there is no easy to find convenient vitamin supplements that can be prescribed to vitiligo patients. While a balanced diet with ample amounts of vitamins and nutrients is good for everyone, don’t expect diet or lotions to make much of a difference to your vitiligo.
MYTH: It can be cured or reversed
No, vitiligo is currently not curable by any known medically approved treatment plan. This is similar to most other autoimmune diseases, as the best form of care is usually just regular checkups and managing symptoms. Certain medically proven treatments exist, but only for making the patches less obvious and they do not cure vitiligo. Some of these treatments are application of steroids, phototherapy (which is not always successful and has a potential for causing skin cancer), skin or cellular grafts (involves surgery). Some people use makeup and cosmetics to disguise their patches, others make use of tattoos.
While this skin condition is not curable, the good news is that there seems to be no physical harm to people who have vitiligo. They have healthy bodies and can function normally. Many non-scientific tips and tricks exist for supposedly “curing” vitiligo. Hence it is very important to watch out for non-medical people who claim to have treatment for vitiligo, as these people are not trained professionally.
People with vitiligo face a lot of social stigma due to their skin condition, this leads to a lot of internal struggle as well. People in this vulnerable state are often taken advantage of by non-medical rogues who try to make money off of them. If you or someone you know has vitiligo talk to a qualified dermatologist. Hopefully, this article has helped you understand this disease better, feel free to share it with everyone you know. Together we can all lower the stigma of this skin condition!