Like many other chronic health conditions, vitiligo is often misunderstood—and due to the visible symptoms it causes, it’s undeniably stigmatized. Vitiligo is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes areas of a person’s skin to lose color. There is no cure for vitiligo, but there are treatment options that can help restore lost skin color, stop the depigmented patches and spots from getting bigger, and prevent new areas of lost pigment from forming, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Every person with vitiligo has a different experience—and that can make finding the right treatment challenging.
Still, there are a lot of options out there. It just may take some time to discover which one works for you, and with minimal side effects. Here’s what you can expect, physically and mentally, as you seek vitiligo treatment.
There are a lot of different treatment options you can try.
There are various medications to help you achieve your unique skin goals, including tacrolimus ointment (a calcineurin inhibitor that reduces inflammation), calcipotriene cream or ointment (a topical form of vitamin D), light therapy, topical or oral corticosteroids, skin graft or cell transplant surgery, or self-tanner and skin dye. The newest treatment to join the lineup, Opzelura (ruxolitinib), is a prescription cream that aims to repigment the skin by suppressing the immune response that causes the skin to lose pigment.
Deciding on a treatment plan is “based on the extent of skin involved, the patient’s preferences, and the duration of disease,” Stephanie Trovato, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF.
“Those with mild or early cases often prefer [topical treatments] or light treatment because they [have fewer potential side effects],” Cindy Wassef, MD, an assistant professor at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells SELF. “With more extensive disease or rapidly worsening vitiligo, an oral treatment is usually preferred to help stop the progression.”
Ultimately, the right treatment is one that feels like a good fit for your lifestyle and your skin’s needs, Ife J. Rodney, MD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology Aesthetics and professor of dermatology at Howard University and George Washington University, tells SELF.
That might mean…no treatment at all! For some people, the trial-and-error process may, understandably, be more of a hassle than it’s worth. After all, the effects of vitiligo don’t need to be “fixed,” and a growing number of people who have the condition choose to embrace it. “Some patients have come to accept their vitiligo and do not wish to pursue further treatment,” Vicky Zhen Ren, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine, tells SELF. Some people may also prefer to simply cover up the patches with makeup, self-tanner, or skin dye as a temporary measure, according to the AAD.
Treatment can also be complicated for some people.
Again, finding the right care plan for any given person with vitiligo can involve a lot of experimentation, Dr. Rodney says. “What works for one person may not work for another, and it may take some time to find the most effective treatment,” she says.