Vitiligo is a long-term condition where pale white patches develop on the skin being caused by the lack of melanin, which is the pigment in skin. Any area of the skin can be affected, but it commonly happens on the face, neck and hands, and in skin creases. You may think that the only problem is the change in the appearance of the skin, but more than often it can be life-changing. Those afflicted with the condition and sometimes, even their families face alot of social stigmatisation which can lead to low self-esteem, embarrassment, anxiety, frustration, and even serious depression.

I chose to end this week of Advocacy raising awareness about a condition that is not necessarily fatal but has killed and continues to kill self esteem in a very profound way. Let us demistify the myths that continue to float in our society about these people. I remember while growing up we were told that twins ‘burn’ and so people who had patched skins like we see with persons with vitiligo had been so unlucky to undergo the same fate.

Myths and facts of Vitiligo

Myth; Persons with vitiligo are born of parents of mixed races

Fact; Vitiligo has nothing to do with ethnicity of the parents and it may not be present at birth either. Even though it generally occurs in a young person before the age of 20, it is likely to occur in an older age.

Myth; Vitiligo is contagious

Fact; Vitiligo is not in anyway contagious nor infectious, and it cannot be passed through contact. Do not be afraid to come near them,there is no reason to avoid people who may have the condition . It cannot be transmitted via touch, saliva, blood, inhalation, sexual intercourse or the sharing of personal items (i.e. drink bottle, towels, etc). This is the easiest way to overcome stigma for people with this condition.

Myth; They should be paying for something

Fact; There are some who believe it is a punishment for wrongdoing, or something called past karma. This is a lie and all these ideas are completely baseless and false. The actual cause like earlier mentioned is the loss of the pigment melanin from our skin. This is a scientifically proven biological process, totally unrelated to the nature of one’s behaviour although there are factors that can increase or aggravate the condition for example new patches can appear after a trauma like scratches/burns/cuts, emotional stress, etc

Myth; Vitiligo afftects only dark skinned people

Fact; Vitiligo affects people of all races equally although it is more noticeable in people with dark skin.

Myth; Vitiligo heals itself

Fact; Just like any other auto-immune disorders that do not heal by themselves; vitiligo needs proper and scientific care. Dermatologists tell us that the treatment is complicated and it requires years of specialisation and training. If left untreated, the condition may remain as it is or even spread gradually with the development of new patches or an increase in the size of existing patches. Journeying with a skin specialist is advisable for more information about the condition and the natural course of this condition.

Myth; Vitiligo is untreatable

Fact; Unlike the earlier decades, medical science has advanced a lot and treatments have emerged like immunomodulating drugs, steroids, Ultraviolet A, and the newer narrowband Ultraviolet B are available. Some have even gone ahead to explore multiple surgical options like split-thickness skin grafting and melanocyte transfer. 

Myth; Vitiligo is related to other skin diseases like albinism and skin cancer

Fact; Vitiligo is completely a separate condition not related to skin cancer, leprosy, or even albinism. Individuals with albinism are born with little or no melanin, whereas vitiligo onset occurs when melanocytes are destroyed and it rarely encompasses the entire body like albinism. Skin cancer on the other hand is a result of mutations in the DNA which causes cells to grow abnormally and uncontrolably. Leprosy is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae. It can cause nerve damage which can lead to weakness and gradual loss of function. Interestingly vitiligo is not detrimental beyond the change in skin colour and does not cause any physical impairment. It is important to reach the correct diagnosis and not mistake one disorder for another which is why you should at all times consult a skin specialist when in doubt.

What other myths have heard in your community? Share and let us burst the bubble.

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