Vitiligo is one of those skin disorders people hold many misconceptions on. Though it is no one’s fault, inaccurate beliefs about the nature of the condition can have devastating effects for those living with it. Just like many mental health issues, conversations about the vitiligo appear to be missing from the public domain. Some vitiligans, due to lack of proper knowledge and existing vitiligo myths, feel embarrassed and avoid seeking effective treatment.
To make people more aware of the disorder, here we debunk common vitiligo myths with actual facts. Hope, we succeed in our mission.
1. Vitiligo is contagious.
Vitiligo is neither infectious nor contagious, it is rather an immune disorder. So, there’s no way to get it from someone else. It cannot be passed through contact or transmitted via touch, saliva, blood, inhalation, sexual intercourse or the sharing of personal items. The cause of vitiligo is not fully understood, but the disorder is not passed from one to another via sneezing, coughing, sharing food, or a bed.
2. Vitiligo is dangerous
Vitiligo, for being a skin disorder, is not a life-threatening problem. Though, many vitiligo fighters experience psychological impact, excessive anxiety, and depression, they should be properly counselled and reassured. They should be told all therapeutic options and camouflage techniques.
3. Vitiligo destroys the pigment-producing cells.
If you are in the habit of googling around the subject of vitiligo, you may have come across websites that describe the disorder as a skin condition in which white patches appear on the skin due to the destruction of melanocytes. But, thankfully, it simply isn’t true.
Scientific evidence shows that the melanocytes in the vitiligo-depigmented skin are not dead but merely inactive or blocked in some way. With the right treatment, they can be revived.
4. Vitiligo fighters are at higher risk of developing skin cancer. Always wear sunblock.
Since the pigment is known to protect the skin from sun damage, it is natural to think lack of it will leave you more vulnerable to skin cancer. However, in the case of vitiligo, the opposite is in fact true.
You might have often heard “if you have vitiligo you should stay out of the sun and/or wear sunblock. There are many reasons why it might be wise to ignore this advice. Many people with vitiligo (especially those who are using either a topical or oral treatment) experience re-pigmentation when exposed to UV light. So, avoiding it can be counterproductive. The lack of sun exposure can lead to vitamin D deficiency, something that many vitiligo fighters already suffer from.
5. Vitiligo is caused by eating certain combinations of foods.
Vitiligo is a result of the wrong combination of foods, like, drinking milk shortly after eating fish. This is quite common belief. But, that’s not true. Vitiligo is an auto-immune disorder which has no direct relation to food. Therefore, avoiding certain foods will have absolutely no impact on the progression. In reality, factors which are believed to aggravate vitiligo are trauma. New patches are observed to appear where the skin is subject to the friction of trauma like scratches, burns, cuts, emotional stress, pregnancy, and pressure sores.
6. Vitiligo is untreatable.
Various vitiligo myths over the years may have contributed to this misunderstanding. There may not be a magic pill, but certain lines of treatment can reverse vitiligo, or prevent its onset. Treatments like immunomodulator drugs, steroids, Ultraviolet A and the newer narrowband Ultraviolet B are available. In addition to these, surgical options like punch grafting and split thickness grafting can be done.
Vitiligo treatment is often difficult and slow and not all patients respond alike. At least 70% patients show a good response to optimal treatment. However, it is more important to treat the stigma than the disorder as the mental impact in vitiligo is far more serious than the effect on physical well-being.
7. Vitiligo is related to albinism
In reality, vitiligo is not related to albinism. In Albinism, an individual is born with no melanin. As a result, one has white skin all over, including hair, and eyebrows, since birth. On the other hand, vitiligo fighters have normal skin at birth. Later in life, they develop abnormal immune response towards melanocytes causing their inactivity and blockage.
8. All White Patches are Vitiligo
All the white patches are not vitiligo. There are many conditions due to which white patches can appear on the skin. These include Chemical Leukoderma (due to exposure to some chemicals), Congenital Leukoderma (white patches appear in some people since birth), Fungal Infections (some can cause hypopigmented patches which are scaly in nature) and Leprosy (infectious disease mainly causing skin lesions and nerve damage).
The similarity with Leprosy may often lead to the social stigma attached to vitiligo. Leprosy is an infection triggered by bacteria while vitiligo is simply an immune disorder. In vitiligo patches, there is depigmentation, while in leprosy hypopigmented patches are present with sensory loss.
9. Children of parents with vitiligo ultimately develop vitiligo
This is not entirely true. Of people with vitiligo, only 15-20% have one or more affected first-degree relative. This leaves 80-85% of vitiligo cases which occur without any family history. However, being an autoimmune disorder, there could be a genetic predisposition.
10. People with vitiligo are not eligible for blood donation.
Unless the donor has been declared unfit by a health professional, any vitiligo fighter is eligible for blood donation. Vitiligo is not a communicable disease; hence, it cannot be transmitted by blood fluids and will not put the receiver at risk.
11. Only dark-skinned people get vitiligo.
To burst one of the most prevalent vitiligo myths, let us reiterate that Vitiligo affects people of all races and genders equally. It may be more noticeable in people with dark skin.