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Our dermatologists answer your vitiligo questions

 Posted on 18th July 2023  4 minute read

We have a brilliant team who answer your questions about vitiligo every day. Here are some of the most common questions and answers from the past few months:

Is it safe to go on swimming lessons in a chlorine treated pool or a UV pool if I have vitiligo? 

There shouldn’t be a problem as long as the you do not have eczema or skin that is easily irritated.  The reasoning there is that if you have sensitive skin or eczema the chlorine in the water might irritate the skin, causing skin inflammation, which might bring out vitiligo through koebnerisation. This is less likely in people who do not have sensitive skin or eczema – most people with ’normal skin’ who attend a swimming baths do not get a reaction to the chemicals in the water (though a small number might do, that is always a slight possibility). 

There is also a slight risk of rubbing of the swimming costume on the skin with repeated friction, which might induce a vitiligo koebner response (we sometimes see vitiligo around the waist for instance, where waistbands have rubbed).  Your might wish to know of this small possibility, more a risk if their is vitiligo is ‘active’, i.e. spreading, at the present time, less likely if the vitiligo is stable. 

What is the difference between grey hair and vitiligo hair?  How would I know if the white hairs in my brows are vitiligo or not? 

Greying of the hair (medically called ‘canities’) is more common in people with vitiligo.  If it is generalised it is a different condition from vitiligo affecting the scalp, where, unless the whole scalp is affected, patches of the hair would be white (or perhaps off white if the condition was just developing).

Can vitiligo spots form in the nail bed?  I know what I see is not a half moon at the base of my nail, but is the white spot vitiligo? 

Vitiligo can affect the fingertips.  However, usually the whole of the finger tip including any pigment in the nail would be affected.  If it is small white spots within the nail then this might not necessarily be vitiligo, there might be another cause. 

If I don’t see any new spots for over a year, is it done?  I know it’s not cured, but is it over per se? 

There is though no actual period of time over which one might say that someone is ‘cured’ or that vitiligo will not return.  It is best to think that it is in abeyance, so far so good, but that something might jolt it back into activity.  That something could be any number of factors including some other illness, the stress of a shock, an injury to the skin, or it may just recur without any apparent preceding stimulus. 

Has anyone else experienced a return of pigmentation once they take HRT? 

Repigmentation or darkening of existing background pigmentation is a possible effect with some hormone replacement therapy – oestrogens can stimulate pigmentation, so it is quite possible to postulate this effect. 

Can vitiligo affect skin’s ability to heal itself? Every wound no matter what size, does not heal back together but opens and sometimes becomes infected, even a blood test wound, and takes around four weeks to gel back together. 

Delayed wound healing is not a feature of standard autoimmune type vitiligo, although of course the development of vitiligo within a traumatised skin wound is quite a common occurrence.  The only exception to this might be if there is some sort of disorder underlying the vitiligo which itself could impair wound healing. However, the most likely situation is that the compromised wound healing has nothing to do with the vitiligo. Anyone who experiences this should consult their general practitioner.

Is there a link between vitiligo and other autoimmune diseases and conditions such as alopecia and thyroid disorders?

Virtually all so called autoimmune diseases are associated with vitiligo. That includes the autoimmune diseases of most endocrine glands, such as thyroid, adrenal, pancreas, and so on. It includes diabetes and pernicious anaemia. 

Is there any medical data on what vitiligo sufferers die from, ie link to cancer?

The answer here is not available to us, as there hasn’t been any specific research into this subject. However, there seems to be recent evidence that skin cancers, notably malignant melanoma, are less common in people with vitiligo. 

Is there any connection to Haemochromatosis (Iron overload)

Our dermatologist didn’t know of any connection between haemachromatosis and vitiligo, and was unable to think of one that you could theoretically propose.

What is the best way to remove hair from upper lip/chin

Regarding hair removal, the problem here is that something like laser hair removal might induce some trauma to the skin, even if mild, and that might set off some depigmentation. Other forms of hair removal such as creams might cause some irritation that could have the same effect. Shaving might be less traumatic but is not so acceptable. So the answer is that any of the commonly used methods could be risky.  If you are considering hair removal then, it might be an idea to try which ever methods you decide on on a non-visible part of the body and wait a few weeks to see if there has been any adverse effect.  However, there is no guarantee here that something might develop later or that a more visible part of the body such as the face might behave in a different way. An adverse effect will be more likely if the vitiligo is in an active phase but might occur even if it is not. 

Do you have a question about vitiligo? Why not email our team: to get your question answered.

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