Most of us will be aware of hyperpigmentation – those dark marks that form when our skin produces an excess amount of melanin. But what do you know about vitiligo, a condition characterised by the loss of it? If the answer’s not all that much, then you’re not alone. Vitiligo, despite affecting over 50 million people around the world is still poorly understood and nobody has been able to agree on a cause or find a cure. Or have they?
What we know
As it stands, medical scientists aren’t one hundred percent sure why certain people develop vitiligo but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that it is genetic as well as related to an immune disorder. In a nutshell, immune disorders are conditions created when the sufferer’s immune system starts to attack their own body, mistaking it for an “invader” such as a virus or bacteria. In the case of vitiligo, the theory that is that the sufferer’s body is attacking their melanocytes (the cells that create pigmentation) and that’s why they gradually lose pigment.
While vitiligo can occur at any stage of life and affects all races and sexes, the condition typically manifests around the age of 30. The white patches that appear are often symmetrical and can appear anywhere on your body but tend to be most common around the eyes, neck, armpits, elbows, hand, knees and genitalia.
What we’re learning
Here’s an interesting fact about grey hair. The reason why hair turns silvery white is due to a build-up of hydrogen peroxide in the hair follicles that essentially bleach it. Most young people produce catalase, an enzyme that breaks down the hydrogen peroxide and keeps their hair from turning grey. Older people, however, tend to produce much less catalase and also don’t have enough MSR A and B, two other enzymes that help repair the oxidative stress caused by the hydrogen peroxide.
Recently, headlines have been made about the findings of a European research team who believe that vitiligo is also caused by oxidative stress. Their work has resulted in the creation of a proprietary ointment that contains a modified form of catalase that’s activated by UVB rays. (Yep, sunshine!) The German doctor who owns the rights to the formulation claims to have successfully restored pigment to her patients that travel from around the globe to her clinics in Germany as well as London. Naturally, a lot more research needs to be done, but for now, it’s one of the most exciting breakthroughs in the search for a cure for vitiligo.
Treatments proven to help
Not everyone can afford to fly across the world in pursuit of a treatment that’s yet to get FDA approval, but several locally available treatment options are proven to make a visible difference. At Skin Renewal, we offer patients affected by vitiligo with a prescription corticosteroid cream to decrease inflammation that slows down the loss of pigment. We’ve also seen great results following the application Pigmerise, a cream containing a black pepper derivative. It’s proven to help stimulate the growth of melanocytes (cells that produce melanin) and encourage dendrite synthesis. Dendrites are essentially the ‘branches’ that stem out from the melanocytes. They transfer the melanin from the bottom layers of your skin up to the top. The more melanocytes and dendrites you have, the easier it is for your skin to re-pigment itself.
The bottom line
If you’re suffering from vitiligo and want to inhibit its spread as well as regain as much pigment as possible, make an appointment to see one of the highly-skilled doctors at Health Renewal. Together, we can help restore as much of your skin tone as possible as well as your confidence.
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