Those with vitiligo understand the stress and frustration that comes with managing it and looking for treatments. One common and promising vitiligo treatment is light therapy. Let’s break it down and see how phototherapy works to treat vitiligo.
Put simply, vitiligo is a condition that causes the skin to lose pigmentation in blotches. This long-term condition’s causes are unknown, although some believe that it may be a genetic disorder caused by an autoimmune disease. Despite the stigmatism surrounding vitiligo, it is not contagious nor is it life-threatening.
Vitiligo is classified into two types: segmental and non-segmental. Non-segmental vitiligo is the most common type. It typically begins near the hands and affects the area around the eyes and mouth and feet. Non-segmental means that the loss of color appears on both sides of the body. It occurs gradually, becoming more apparent as time passes. Segmental vitiligo is quite uncommon and appears on one side of the body without crossing the midline. Usually, the color loss begins in childhood and spreads continually for about a year, then stops.
Statistics show that 0.5 to 1 percent of the global population has some form of vitiligo. Luckily, for that 1 percent, enough research has been conducted to develop successful treatments.
Officially called narrow-band ultraviolet B therapy (NB-UVB), this form of Light therapy was introduced as a treatment for vitiligo in 1997. It is considered one of the safest and most effective treatments available. Using a specific lamp and phosphor-coated fluorescent bulb, the light emits a very particular wavelength that “stimulates the dormant skin melanocytes,” enabling repigmentation.
In the early days of NB-UVB, 63 percent of patients regained 75 percent or more of their pigmentation after one year in which they received light therapy twice a week. Its success and lack of side effects make it an outstanding option for children as well as adults. It’s also safe for pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding. Overall, NB-UVB is a very safe treatment for vitiligo.
While drugs cannot stop the occurrence of vitiligo, it may be able to restore some pigmentation. Corticosteroid cream is an option and can possibly bring color back to the skin. However, there are side effects such as thinning of the skin or even permanent colored streaks on the applied area. There are also medications that focus on the immune system. Be warned, however: the FDA released a statement warning of the possibility of lymphoma or skin cancer connected with the use of the drugs.
2) Psoralen Ultraviolet A Therapy (PUVA)
Unlike NB-UVB, PUVA is a combination of medication (psoralen) and ultraviolet light therapy. This drug absorbs UV light, making your skin more susceptible to UV rays and thus bringing the pigmentation back to the skin. Taken orally or as a topical cream, psoralen has some serious side effects, including nausea, itching, burning, swelling, blisters, and possible skin cancer. These side effects make psoralen unsuitable for children.
A more extreme option would be skin grafting or blister grafting. Skin grafting is a procedure in which a doctor surgically removes small pieces of your pigmented skin and places it on the skin affected by vitiligo. In blister grafting, the doctor will create blisters on the toned skin, remove the top of the blister and add them to the affected portion. Risks include infection, scarring, and uneven toning.
Clearly, NB-UVB is a solid option for anyone no matter their age, race, or gender. If you are suffering from vitiligo and are in the greater Ohio area, reach out to the experts at The Dermatology Group and find out how we can help you.