Does exposure to sunlight make vitiligo worse?
Exposure to the sun can cause sunburn to vitligo patches but this does not usually trigger a worsening of the condition.
Should I take any precautons to protect my skin?
Patches of vitiligo skin have no natural protection against the sun's rays. This is because vitiligo skin is white as the melanocytes which produce melanin (skin pigment) are not active.
The effect of the sun is normally to increase melanin production and to turn the skin brown; this is a protective mechanism to prevent the skin from being damaged by burning. Therefore, the most important reason for protecting your skin is to prevent sunburn. Not only is this painful, but damage to the skin, including sunburn, can stimulate the vitiligo to spread in some people.
As vitiligo skin is particularly vulnerable to sunlight and needs protection, some brands of sunblock are classified by the NHS (The British National Health Service) as borderline substances which means they can be obtained on prescription from your doctor.
It is recommended that you choose a sunblock with a sun protection factor of 20 or over and there is little evidence that SPFs of over 30 provide any additional benefit. To avoid burning it is important not to rely only on sunblock. Wearing a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses and loose cotton clothing and keeping in the shade as far as possible during the heat of the day (11am to 3pm) are of equal importance.
It may mean that sunbathing on a beach is no longer the best way to spend your holidays but having vitiligo should in no way prevent you from taking outdoor holidays in warmer climates.
What can I do to hide the patches?
Many people, especially when first diagnosed with vitiligo, find the condition emotionally and psychologically devastating.
If you think that you would feel better if you were able to conceal your vitiligo, Changing Faces run a free service provided by highly trained volunteers, It is called the Skin Camouflage Service and it is available to people with vitiligo by referral through their GP, their dermatologist or by self-referral
The British Association of Skin Camouflage (BASC) also offer a skin camouflage service: tel. 01254 703107
We can send you a leaflet giving full details about these services and can provide a phone number for you to contact your regional service provider.
Refer to Treatments: Camouflage.