West Houston Dermatology

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Vitiligo – What is It?

Vitiligo (pronounced (vit-ill-EYE-go)) is a skin disorder affecting the cells of the skin that make pigment (melanocytes), the mucous membranes, and retina of the eye.  The result is white patches of skin appearing over the body, and if the area happens to be the scalp, a person’s hair in that area usually turns white as well.  Other than the white appearance, the skin looks and feels the same.  About 1 out of every 100 people in the United States has Vitiligo, and scientists do not know with certainty what causes the condition, but some theorize that it is an autoimmune disease.  It is also possible that Vitiligo is hereditary.  Patients most often notice white patches (depigmentation) on the skin in sun exposed areas such as the lips, face, hands, feet, and arms.  It is also common for patients to have depigmentation around the navel, groin, armpit, mouth, eyes, nose, nostrils and genitals.  Though the condition is not life-threatening, it does cause some patients emotional distress due to an altered appearance – especially in young children and adolescents.  However, the depigmented areas are more susceptible to sun burns, and if not prevented, this can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.  There are several treatments for this dermatological condition.  To learn more about Vitiligo and treatment, contact Dr. Stephen Mahoney of West Houston Dermatology to set an appointment.  Dr. Mahoney is one of the few physicians in Houston who can treat Vitiligo with light therapy.