White spots on my arms – is it vitiligo?

white spots on arms, face or legs - vitiligo or tinea versicolor?

Have you experienced, as you were looking at your face in the mirror,  a small white speck at the side of your mouth? Perhaps you didn’t give much thought to it, thinking it’s just something trivial. However, a few weeks later you see that white speck turn into a white spot. If that white spot turns into a much-bigger white spot much later, perhaps it’s time to for a visit to a dermatologist’s office and have yourself checked for vitiligo.

Vitiligo is a skin disorder that is characterized by white patches of skin, which occur because that area has lost its pigment. In many cases, these white patches become bigger. For some, the depigmentation spreads fast and wide until their skin is entirely white. There is no definitive way to tell the speed or degree of its progress though.

Vitiligo or tinea versicolor?

That white spot, however, can also be mistaken for other skin conditions, tinea versicolor in particular. Both are chronic skin conditions, and are characterized by a certain degree of discoloration of the affected area. They are also fortunately not contagious. The major similarities, however, end there. Vitiligo and tinea versicolor are different in so many ways.

Vitiligo, for one, is widely regarded as an autoimmune disease, although many studies suggest that nutritional deficiencies, heredity, trauma and too much stress may also give rise to the condition. Tinea versicolor, on the other hand is essentially a fungal skin infection. Fungi are part of our normal skin flora, but when the Malassezia globosa fungus grows out of control, it leads to tinea versicolor.

Even the major similarity between the two skin conditions differ in one aspect. While vitiligo sufferers only have white patches on their skin because of depigmentation, the spots that mark tinea versicolor can also be white, pink, red, or brown in color. The white patches of vitiligo generally do not cause any physical discomfort, while the spots of tinea versicolor, which is actually more of a rash, can be dry, scaly and itchy.

The white patches of vitiligo are also commonly found in sun-exposed areas of the skin, particularly the face, hands and feet, although they can also appear in the armpits, the groin and genital areas. The rash that characterizes tinea versicolor, meanwhile, tends to appear on the upper trunk of the body. People of any age may develop vitiligo, while tinea versicolor affects teenagers and young adults more commonly.

Topical antifungal creams, lotions or shampoos containing selenium sulfide, miconazole, clotrimazole, terbinafine and other substances are often recommended for use in treating tinea versicolor. Doctors may also recommend antifungal pills for more severe cases. Vitiligo patients, for their part, undergo such treatments such as photot

herapy, skin grafting, depigmentation or corticosteroid creams and ointments to treat their condition. They can also resort to cosmetic solutions in order to make their skin look normal and even. There are also several natural treatments for vitiligo.

Only a dermatologist will be able to tell with any certainty what your condition is, so waste no time in dropping by the doctor’s office and having yourself checked.

Vitiligo Definition

vitiligo definition and vitiligo key terms

Definition

Vitiligo is a skin condition that occurs when melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that determines skin, eye and hair color, die or no longer function. It is characterized by the appearance of slowly enlarging white patches of irregular shapes on the skin.

Causes and symptoms

To date, the cause of vitiligo has not been definitively established. However, there are several different theories as to what causes vitiligo. The most widely accepted theory is that vitiligo is an autoimmune disease. Several studies, however, also suggest that it could be hereditary, the result of nutritional deficiencies, extreme trauma or excessive stress.

Diagnosis

Typically, vitiligo can be identified by your doctor by the appearance of white patches alone, and special tests are therefore not usually necessary. Some doctors may want to see the differences in the color of your skin, and may use an ultraviolet lamp to do so. Doctors will also usually ask if you have relatives with the condition, or if you have suffered a sunburn or a bad rash on the affected area.

Vitiligo key terms

Autoimmune disea

se – a medical condition that occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues.

Melanin:  the natural pigment that determines our skin, hair and eye color, produced by cells known as melanocytes.

Melanocyte: The skin cell that produces the pigment melanin.

Depigmentation:  The lightening of the skin due to the loss of color or pigment.

Phototherapy: The use of light, ultraviolet light in particular, for the treatment of certain medical conditions, vitiligo included

Pigmentation: The natural coloring of a person’s skin, hair, mucous membranes, and retina of the eye.

Sunburn: Any injury to the skin caused by the ultraviolet rays caused by the sun

Vitiligo treatment

While there is no known permanent cure for vitiligo, there are several treatments available that promise to stop the spread of the white patches. The more common treatments for vitiligo include phototherapy, the topical application of corticosteroid creams or ointments, skin grafts and depigmentation. Patients can also opt for natural treatments such as consuming foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals or taking health supplements, particularly vitamin B12. For patients who are suffering psychosocial symptoms due to their vitiligo, they would do well to get counseling or join a vitiligo support group that will help them come to terms with their condition.

Prognosis

Vitiligo is an unpredictable condition in the sense that its course varies from person to person. Some patients may experience repigmentation in affected areas, while others may see new white patches appear, even with treatment. There are patients whose vitiligo may completely stop, while in some cases, their depigmentation could get worse as time goes by. Some may even go through a total depigmentation of their skin.

Prevention

Since no one knows exactly what causes vitiligo, there is no surefire way to prevent the occurrence of the disease. However, if the existing theories about the causes of the condition are to be believed, there are some things a person can do to prevent developing vitiligo. Boosting one’s immune system is one, and this can be done by making up for certain nutritional deficiencies, particularly that of vitamin B12. Since excessive stress is also being blamed for the condition, learning effective stress management techniques might also help. Avoid too much exposure to the sun as well, as sunburn is also suspected of triggering the appearance of those white patches.

Resources

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vitiligo/DS00586

http://www.medicinenet.com/vitiligo/article.htm#what_is_vitiligo_and_what_causes_it

http://www.webmd.boots.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/vitiligo-diagnosing-vitiligo

http://www.emedicinehealth.com/vitiligo/glossary_em.htm

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Vitiligo/Pages/Treatment.aspx

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000831.htm

 

Vitiligo FAQ

Have questions about vitiligo? Then read our vitiligo FAQ!

Have questions about vitiligo? Then read our vitiligo FAQ!

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about vitiligo:  

  •  What is Vitiligo? Vitiligo is a skin condition that occurs when melanocytes, the cells that produce the pigment melanin that gives the skin its natural color, die out or are enable to function. 
  • What are the symptoms of vitiligo?Vitiligo is marked by the appearance of white patches on their skin, a result of depigmentation. Although these white patches may appear on any part of the body, they are more commonly found on areas of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun such as the face, hands, arms, lips and feet. They may also appear on the armpits, groin and genitals.
  •  What causes vitiligo?

To date, the cause of vitiligo has not yet been definitively established, but scientific research theorizes that a combination of immunologic, environmental and hereditary factors trigger the development of the disorder.

  •  How many vitiligo sufferers are there in the world?

Vitiligo affects 0.5 to 1 percent of the global population, which is roughly 65 million people.

  • Who may be affected by vitiligo?

People of any age, gender or race may develop vitiligo, although the initial symptoms tend to appear between the ages of ten and thirty. The white patches are also more apparent in patients who have darker complexion.

  •  Is vitiligo contagious?

Unlike many skin disorders, vitiligo is not an infectious skin condition.

  • Do the white patches of vitiligo spread?

The spread of vitiligo may vary from patient to patient. Some vitiligo sufferers experience a slow spread of the white patches or no spreading at all, while for others, the white patches spread rather rapidly.

  • How does vitiligo affect the lives of those who have it?

Although vitiligo patients feel no itching or any kind of physical discomfort, the white patches present a cosmetic issue which may have an adverse impact on their quality of life. It is common for vitiligo patients, particularly those with white patches on the face which can be unsightly, to feel depressed, have low self-esteem and in certain cases, experience rejection. A number of vitiligo patients have also complained about how the condition has taken a toll on their personal relationships as well as their sex lives.

  • Can vitiligo be cured?

Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for vitiligo just yet. However, there are several treatment options available which either slow down the spread or progress of the condition or conceal those white patches.

  • What are the most common treatments for vitiligo?

 Among the most common vitiligo treatments are:

Phototherapy-the exposure of skin to ultraviolet light. This can be done at home or in a clinic using a domestic UV lamp.

Topical Corticosteroid therapy-Corticosteroid creams or ointments are applied to the skin with the aim of triggering repigmentation of the affected area, a process which could take as long as three months.

 Depigmentation-An option usually resorted to by patients with white patches that cover more than half of their entire skin, depigmentation therapy is designed to lighten the parts of the skin which remain unaffected by vitiligo in order to match the already depigmented areas. This involves the use of monobenzone ether of hydroquinone twice a day.

 Skin graftinga surgical procedure that involves the transplantation of normally-pigmented skin on the white patches.

Makeup– There are several cosmetic camouflage solutions that effectively mask vitiligo patches and make one’s complexion look more even.

  •  Are there natural ways to treat vitiligo?

There are actually many natural options for people who want to manage their vitiligo in a less expensive and ultimately safer way. A few lifestyles changes, particularly when it comes to diet, are recommended. Consume more green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains as they are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Carrots, celery and parsnips are also recommended since they contain psoralen, a compound that helps increase the sensitivity of the skin to ultraviolet light and promote tanning. To further aid in the healthy tanning of depigmented skin, there are supplements available for that, particularly those that contain significant doses of vitamin B12 and selenium.

  • Do YOU have any questions about vitiligo? Please submit a comment below, and we’ll do our best to answer your question!