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New Approach to a Discoloring Skin Disorder

July 3, 2001
PERSONAL HEALTH
New Approach to a Discoloring Skin Disorder
By JANE E. BRODY

Loretta C., who has a skin condition called vitiligo that literally turned her skin from black to white, was brought up to cherish her African-American heritage. So the disparagement that she and her husband and children have suffered from fellow blacks has been especially painful.

About 1 percent to 2 percent of Americans have vitiligo. While the condition is not contagious, painful, itchy or dangerous, the disfigurement it can cause‚ especially for dark-skinned people‚ can be profoundly damaging socially, professionally and psychologically.

"I've experienced racism both as a black and as a white woman," Loretta reports on the American Vitiligo Research Foundation's Web site, www.avrf.org. "People think my husband married a white woman. I feel isolated from my ethnic group."

As her skin gradually lost its color, patch by patch, people treated her like a leper. Thinking she had a contagious disease, they often refused to shake her hand or take money directly from her.

In India, vitiligo (pronounced vit-uh-LIE- go) is often referred to as "white leprosy," and women with it are often discriminated against in marriage; if they develop vitiligo after marriage, it can be grounds for divorce. Nehru ranked vitiligo as the third-biggest health problem in India, after malaria and starvation.

Vitiligo is less obvious in light-skinned people, though it can still be traumatic and result in ostracism or teasing.

In the Children's Corner on the foundation's Web site, April Mitchell, a teenager who has had vitiligo since she was 8, reports that she has been called all sorts of names, including "cow," "dog" and "chocolate and vanilla," and has been asked if she had rolled in the mud. She has made cards to hand to the curious, in which she states that she is not contagious, adding, "I'm just like you; I just have two colors of skin."

April states that she has learned from her experience with vitiligo that  "I'm not the only one in the world that is different."

A Neglected Disorder

Vitiligo results from the loss of melanocytes. These are the skin cells that produce melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Melanin is generated in response to the ultraviolet B radiation in sunlight; it is what makes light-skinned people tan. Additional melanin is produced after sun exposure in dark-skinned people as well, though it may be less obvious.

But in people with vitiligo, the melanocytes self-destruct, probably because of a toxic exposure or an autoimmune reaction in which the body mistakenly attacks its own cells. The resulting white patches of skin may enlarge and increase in number for a while, and then the condition may stabilize, only to start up again later. Injury, illness, a bad sunburn and severe stress have been known to provoke the onset or progression of vitiligo.

There is no way to cure the condition or halt its spread. Save for some devoted dermatologists, neither the medical profession nor health insurers seem to take it seriously. Stella Pavlides of Clearwater, Fla., who created the vitiligo foundation, said, "Ninety percent of dermatologists say to patients, 'It doesn't kill you, just go home and don't worry about it.' "

Research into the causes and treatment of vitiligo has been limited. Through a long series of treatments originally developed for psoriasis, lost pigment can be restored in many people, said Dr. Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, a dermatologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who was a pioneer in treating vitiligo. If the condition is very widespread, bleaching the remaining skin to match is an option, he said.

Vitiligo is not present at birth; it shows up between the ages of 10 and 30 in about half the people who get it. More than 30 percent of those affected are likely to have a family history of the disorder, although fewer than 10 percent of the children of people with vitiligo develop it themselves. It is sometimes associated with more serious disorders that may also have an autoimmune cause.

For example, up to 30 percent of women with vitiligo develop thyroid disease. Vitiligo patients also have an increased risk of developing diabetes, pernicious anemia and Addison's disease, an adrenal disorder.

People with vitiligo must protect their skin from exposure to the sun. Affected areas of skin can become seriously sunburned while the surrounding skin tans.

Affected people must be vigilant about using sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (30 or better) on exposed skin year- round. During long periods outdoors, they should wear long sleeves, pants and wide- brimmed hats.

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Supported Links

The American Vitiligo Research Foundation, (AVRF) was named

"CHARITY OF THE MONTH" by PETA, on AnimalSavingsClub.com - please click to read about it!

Below are links that AVRF supports.

American Academy of Dermatology

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology

Institute for Pigmentary Disorders Greifswald, Germany / Bradford, UK

The Dutch Vitiligo Society

The Mayo Clinic

NIH: National Institutes of Health

Netherlands Institute for Pigment Disorders

News-Medical.Net

UMass Medical School: Vitiligo Clinic & Research Center

Vitiligo and Pigmentation Institute of Southern California

Vitiligo Portal, of the Vitiligo Federation

The Vitiligo Working Group

www.vitiligobond.org

AVRF does not endorse the content on any third party websites. AVRF is not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites,  or third party advertisements, and does not make any representations regarding their content or accuracy. Your use of third-party websites is at your own risk and subject to the terms and conditions of use for such sites. AVRF does not endorse any product advertised or mentioned on the AVRF Site.

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Books

vitamin therapy

The Use of Vitamin Therapy for the Treatment of Vitiligo

by Audrey VanStockum

In-depth review of vitamins key to vitiligo provides invaluable insights and guidance on effective ways to treat this skin pigmentation disorder.

How vitamins influence pigmentation, protect against oxidative stress, and factor into vitiligo.

44 pages, $24.95

To order your copy, click here

Vitiligo Doesn't Scare Me

Vitiligo Doesn't Scare Me 

by Kim Kirkland
Kim Kirkland, a Maryland based fiction has sparked a new conversation about Vitiligo in a delightful and insightful manner. The book’s main character, Chris, a young boy who has Vitiligo learns important things about why his skin color has changed, and how he can take care of the patches on his skin. He also displays many common feelings individuals experience when newly diagnosed and as they come in contact with people that also notice their Vitiligo condition. Although Chris’s skin looks different in some places, having Vitiligo doesn’t scare him, but he wonders will his family and friends be afraid or curious about the changes in his skin tone and possibly treat him differently.

The story demonstrates acceptance, courage, friendship, and love.” The message will definitely resonate with all ages. Her book encourages young children with Vitiligo to embrace their special uniqueness, share their feelings with others, and continue to be proud of who they are.

Buy It On Amazon or Buy It At Barnes and Noble

The Lemonade Standoff

by Victoria Johnson

It's finally summer, and Keenah and Shay are really excited about their lemonade stand! But when their sworn enemy, Brianna, opens a lemonade stand, their summer becomes The Lemonade Standoff. Will the girls ever stop fighting? Can Keenah and Shay save their lemonade stand's reputation?

28 pages - $9.99 (paperback)

To order your book, please go to this link:

Click Here to Order Book

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Sun Safety

Certain self-care tactics may help you care for your skin and improve its appearance:

  • Protect your skin. If you have vitiligo, particularly if you have fair skin, use sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays. Sunscreen helps protect your skin from sunburn and long-term damage. Sunscreen also minimizes tanning, which makes the contrast between normal and depigmented skin less noticeable.
  • Conceal imperfections. Cosmetics that cover the white patches on your skin may improve your appearance and help you feel better about yourself. These cosmetic products may be particularly effective if you have vitiligo that's limited to exposed areas of your body. You may need to experiment with several brands of concealing cosmetics, such as Dermablend or Chromelin, before finding a product that works best for you.

Sun Safety

  • Tips for preventing skin cancer and sun damage: 
  • Reduce exposure during the sun's peak hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you must be in the sun, make sure you have the proper gear: protective clothing, sunglasses, broad-brim hat, and broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15. 
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours to maintain protection. And always reapply after being in the water, even if the bottle says "waterproof." 
  • Use only broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. SPF only tells you how much protection from UVB (the "burning" rays) the product provides. For protection against UVA (the "aging" rays), look for sunscreen that contains at least 5 percent Zinc Oxide. 
  • UVA rays are constant throughout the year. Sunscreen should be worn when it's cloudy and in every season. 
  • Check your UV index. 
  • Visit your dermatologist once a year for a complete body screening.

How to apply sunscreen:

Because most sunscreens provide a water-resistant base and therefore will not adhere to wet surfaces, it is extremely important to apply to dry skin before going outdoors.

An average adult should use the equivalent of 1 fluid ounce per full-body application. While Blue Lizard will remain effective longer, it's recommended that all sunscreen is reapplied every two hours. Also remember to reapply after vigorous activity or toweling off.

Skin Cancer Facts:

The skin is our largest organ. Think about that. Cancer in any form is scary, but if you could keep it from invading your body's largest organ, why wouldn't you? 
More than 90 percent of skin cancer cases are caused by sun exposure. That means you can prevent it. And no, you don't have to stay out of the sun to be safe. You just have to protect yourself.

At Blue Lizard, it's our No. 1 goal to provide a product that allows people to enjoy the sun without fear of this non-discriminating disease. We never have and never will offer sun products meant to tan; we are strictly a sunscreen company. 
Read on for some eye-opening facts about the MOST COMMON and FASTEST GROWING cancer in the United States and tips on how you can prevent it.

  • More than 1.5 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States. 
  • One in five Americans and one in three Caucasians will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. 
  • Nationally, there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon. 
  • More than 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure, yet fewer than 33 percent of adults, adolescents, and children routinely use sun protection. 
  • The incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is rising faster than that of any other cancer. There are now nearly 8,000 melanoma deaths every year. * One person dies every hour from skin cancer, primarily melanoma. 
  • By 2010, melanoma is projected to rise to one in 50 Americans. 
  • While melanoma is uncommon in African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians, it is most deadly for these populations. 
  • The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men older than age 50. 
  • Skin cancer is the No. 1 cancer in men 50 and older, ahead of prostate, lung and colon cancer. 
  • Middle-aged and older men have the poorest track record for performing monthly skin self exams or regularly visiting a dermatologist. They are the least likely individuals to detect melanoma in its early stages. 
  • Men over age 40 spend the most time outdoors and have the highest annual exposure to ultraviolet radiation. 
  • In the past 30 years, skin cancer has tripled in women younger than 40. 
  • Melanoma is the second most common cancer in women aged 20-29. 
  • One blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life. 
  • Regular sun protection throughout childhood can reduce the risk of skin cancer by 80 percent. 
  • It is estimated that 2.3 million teens visit a tanning salon at least once a year. 
  • In the past 20 years there has been more than a 100 percent increase in the cases of pediatric melanoma. 
  • Less than half of all teenagers use sunscreen. 
  • The effects of photoaging (skin aging caused by the sun or tanning machines) can be seen as early as in one's 20s.

Information courtesy of The Skin Cancer Foundation, New York, NY