Although vitiligo, a skin disorder, is neither harmful nor fatal, it can definitely change your life. Not only do you have to deal with its physical symptoms – patches of white, smooth skin called macules – you can also feel a strong emotional and psychological impact. Living with Vitiligo, as with any condition that affects physical appearance, means finding healthy, positive ways to cope.
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies to help you cope. Lifestyle changes and protective measures can help relieve symptoms. Additionally, many patients approach social and mental health impact by seeking advice and finding in-person and online communities and patient advocacy organizations.
Since vitiligo affects your appearance – and because it’s often chronic and irreversible – it can have a significant impact on your mental health and overall quality of life. People with the disease may experience a range of often interrelated issues, including:
- Decreased self-esteem: Since most cultures and societies around the world place importance on physical appearance, people with skin disorders, such as vitiligo, alopecia, and psoriasis, often have low self-esteem and a heightened sense of self-awareness.
- Depression and anxiety: When it comes to self-esteem, people living with this condition have higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders. Increasingly, treating these problems is seen as essential in the fight against vitiligo.
- Quality of life: People with vitiligo are also likely to feel isolated and stigmatized. They can view their pigmentation as devastating, which impacts both social behavior and career prospects. This can have an additional impact on mental health.
It is important to remember that these feelings and effects are natural and can be managed.
Coping with mental health challenges
If you are having emotional difficulties because of this condition, let your doctor know. Healthcare professionals can help you develop a way to deal with these problems. Counseling in one-on-one or group settings, talking to friends and family, and seeking support from others with the condition (online or in person) can also help.
While lifestyle changes and other measures cannot reverse the effects of vitiligo on skin pigmentation, they can certainly help manage them. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the key to healthy skin is to prevent sun exposure. Tanning or sunburn can make the discolored spots bigger and spread.
Preventing sun exposure involves:
- Daily use of sunscreen: The AAD recommends that you apply sunscreen to all the skin not covered by your clothes about 15 minutes before going out. Use products that provide protection against ultraviolet A and B (UVA and UVB) rays, have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and are waterproof.
- Protective clothing: Clothing, of course, also prevents sun exposure, with some fabrics (like denim) offering more protection than others. Long sleeves are good to wear, as t-shirts, especially light-colored ones, are less effective in protecting against the sun.
- In search of shade: Avoiding direct sun exposure being the key, it is always a good idea to seek shade when you are outside. Also, try to avoid sunlight in the middle of the day.
- Safe skin coloring: If you plan to add color to your white skin patches, be sure to use safe, non-toxic self-tanners, concealer creams, dyes, or makeup. Waterproof self-tanners containing dihydroxyacetone and dyes are best for longer lasting results.
- Other tips: Avoid sunlamps, tanning beds, and tattoos, which can cause new patches of discolored skin within 14 days, a condition called Koebner’s phenomenon.
Additionally, your dermatologist (a medical specialist in skin, hair, and nails) or other doctor may recommend light therapy (also called phototherapy). This is a regular exposure of depigmented skin to UVB rays from specialized lamps. This therapy can be done at home or in a clinic.
Light therapy can be combined with the application of topical steroids or vitamin D-like creams, such as calcipotriol and tacalcitol.
In addition to managing the physical symptoms of vitiligo, finding social support is essential for people with vitiligo. Finding connection and community is essential in the face of low self-esteem, stigma and other factors caused by this condition. Fortunately, there are many helpful resources out there, and it’s important to remember that you are not alone.
Who and what can help? Here’s a breakdown:
- Family and friends: It’s a good idea to tell your family and friends about your condition and how you are feeling. They can be a great source of emotional and practical support.
- Support groups: Especially if you are struggling with the stigma and isolation associated with vitiligo, talking to others with this disease or other chronic skin conditions can be invaluable.
- Online Communities: Social media groups and online discussion forums, connecting you to the global community of people with the disease, can also be sources of connection and support.
- Advocacy organizations: Organizations such as Vitiligo Support International and the American Vitiligo Research Foundation (AVRF) connect patients with resources and help advocate for research and awareness of the disease.
A word from Verywell
If you are experiencing physical, emotional, and social distress as a result of your vitiligo, there are many resources that can help. You are not alone and you do not have to suffer in silence. Contact your doctor, friends, family or a support group to find the resources and support that are right for you.