Vitiligo is a common pigment disorder of the skin. It occurs when your immune system attacks your melanocytes, the pigment making cells. This results in splotches of lightened or white areas. The darker a person’s skin color, the more obvious the vitiligo will appear.
There are several ways to treat vitiligo. Applying potent topical steroids or other immune suppressing creams day after day can slowly repigment the skin.
A second way to treat vitiligo is with light therapy. Exposing the skin to ultraviolet light, specifically narrow band UVB, can suppress the immune response and allow the melanocytes to start making pigment again.
Some patients opt to bleach their skin totally white (as has been famously reported of Michael Jackson) rather than try to repigment the skin. This is tricky, though, because often few splotchy brown spots stubbornly remain.
A fourth option is to use skin dyes to cover-up the vitiligo areas. One dye that a few of my patients have had good results with is Dyoderm (Dy-O-Derm). The active ingredient in it, dihydroxyacetone (DHA), is the most common ingredient found in sunless tanners. DHA interacts with the dead cells on the surface of the skin leading to a brown color. It does not affect the pigment producing cells or treat the vitiligo. The brown color only lasts only for about a week before it fades, so it has to be reapplied every few days.
If you have dark skin, then it is unlikely that a dye like dyoderm can create a color dark enough to match your normal skin color. Dyes can, however, minimize the contrast between dark brown skin and white skin, making vitiligo less obvious.
It is also worth noting that DHA can cause a significant increase in skin-damaging oxidizers when it is exposed to sunlight. As a result, you have to be careful to not be in the sun for 24 hours or so after applying; otherwise, you could be exposing yourself to high levels of oxidizers in the dyed areas.
This post is written by Jeffrey Benabio, MD
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