While those desperately seeking an all-encompassing cure for vitiligo will most likely find themselves disappointed, I do have some different therapies to suggest. In this article I will go into greater detail on the vitiligo cures I’ve found to be most effective.
Because people looking for a cures for vitiligo tend to be a little more desperate I will also describe some more aggressive — though not always recommended — therapies which some people have tried.
I’ll start with the least invasive and move towards the most aggressive possible cures.
Topical Cortisone Therapy
This is probably the most commonly discussed possible cure and it remains a safe and effective way to treat vitiligo disease, especially if you start this therapy early. It is simply a matter of applying a prescription strength corticosteroid cream (or cortisone ointment) to your skin for a few months (sometimes longer). This cream or ointment must be prescribed and monitored by your doctor.
This cortisone ointment or cream therapy became widespread during the 80s and was for a time viewed as the best vitiligo cure available. However, light therapy has proven to be more effective and recent studies indicate a range of side-effects with long-term topical steroid use, including stretch marks, skin striae (streaks on the skin), thinning of the skin, skin shrinkage and dilation of blood vessels.
Until doctors refined Narrow Band UVB (see below), PUVA treatment was probably the best vitiligo cure available. It may still be the best for obtaining significant and permanent results, however the process is a little more difficult and the side-effects are potentially more severe than those associated with NB-UVB.
PUVA stands for psoralen ultraviolet A. Psoralen is a drug that reacts to ultraviolet light by darkening the skin. Ultraviolet A is the long wave of ultraviolet radiation, which you best know as the type of sunlight that causes us to sunburn (sunlight contains both UVA and UVB).
PUVA is a phototherapy. With PUVA treatments, patients either spread a psoralen cream on their skin (topical PUVA treatment) or take a psorelen pill (oral PUVA treatment), then follow with a controlled exposure to UVA light. This must be carefully monitored by a physician to avoid serious side-effects.
The problem with PUVA is that not only do you risk permanently damaging your skin in a manner similar to the damage frequent, severe sunburns can inflict on your skin (burns, blisters and an increased chance of skin cancer), but proper PUVA treatments must be administered in your doctor’s office several times a week for several months (even years) to achieve the best results. Also, if PUVA treatment isn’t planned and monitored carefully, you can do the opposite of what you were treating and create skin that is permanently too dark._____________________________________
Narrow Band UVB
Narrow Band UVB (or NB-UVB), is a newer phototherapy and a more hopeful cure for patients everywhere. While it has been in use since the 1980s in Europe, it is only 20 years later becoming more widespread in the United States. With NB-UVB, very specific segments of vitiligo are targeted with a light source emitting a very narrow spectrum of UVB. Radiation begins very weak, then is gradually raised about 15 percent per visit. If any sign of burning or blistering occurs, it can be scaled back and still be effective.
While it is assumed that NB-UVB may exhibit long-term side-effects similar to sun exposure, studies haven’t yet revealed an association with increased cases of skin cancer. However, you should still exercise caution when selecting this potential treatment. You may have difficulty finding a facility capable of performing this new not-yet entirely widespread phototherapy, so one drawback is the possible time and expense of reaching such a facility.
Just this year, scientists have discovered that piperine — a pepper-derived chemical — may function like psorelen with NB-UVB to make Narrow Band UVB even more effective without the side-effects or long-term concerns of psorelen. This is still something being researched, however, so it is unlikely you’ll be able to find it available as a treatment.
Now we’ll discuss some more aggressive (and arguably questionable) approaches to treating vitiligo.
This is a really a dated technique involving taking skin from one part of your body and applying it to the area requiring repigmenting. It is costly, time-consuming and rife with side-effects, so it is now only used as an aggressive, desperate measure. Some people have had some success with it, so you can’t shoot it down completely, but I suggest trying other treatments before risking a skin graft.
Micropigmentation is basically a specialized form of tattooing. Pigment is carefully applied in small amounts to the light skin areas. It can be effective for small areas, but the pigment still fades over time, doctors have difficulty matching your skin color well, and you still risk infection at the pigmentation location. This is most commonly used around the lips of people with naturally darker skin.
Depigmentation involves applying a prescription medication called Benoquin (monobenzone) to the affected areas twice a day. Its effects are permanent, so this is a kind of last resort therapy best used by people whose body has already reached a point of 50 percent or higher depigmentation from vitiligo.
When wearing Benoquin, you must not allow your skin to touch the skin of another individual for at least 2 hours after application. You are also at the risk of significant redness and swelling of your skin. Do not think that just because it is only a cream applied to your skin that it is not a serious and aggressive therapy.
A New Vitiligo Cure?
The future for newer, better vitiligo cures appears hopeful. Besides the very recent discovery of peperine and its use with UVB phototherapy, in recent years researchers have also successfully transplanted and cultivated melanocytes (see my Vitiligo Disease page to learn how these are involved in vitiligo) to successfully repigment portions of vitiligo skin.
Again, these aren’t necessarily available to you right now, but I personally envision a near-future where doctors blend melanocyte-transplantation with peperine UVB therapy to create the ultimate safe and effective vitiligo cure. If you’re still seeking the best cure, hold on to hope. Better methods are coming._____________________________________