Living Well with Vitiligo

While the skin disorder vitiligo isn’t harmful or life-threatening, it can certainly change your life. Not only do you have to manage its physical symptoms—patches of smooth white skin known as macules—you may experience a significant emotional and psychological toll. Living with vitiligo, as with any condition that affects physical appearance, means finding healthy and positive ways to cope.

Luckily, there are a number of strategies to help you cope. Lifestyle changes and protective measures can help with the symptoms. In addition, many patients address the mental health and social impact by seeking counseling and by finding in-person and online communities and supportive patient advocacy organizations. 

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Emotional

Since vitiligo affects how you look—and because it’s often chronic and irreversible—it can significantly impact your mental health and overall quality of life. Those with the condition may experience a range of often interrelated issues, including:

  • Lowered self-esteem: Because most cultures and societies around the world prize physical appearance, people with skin disorders, such as vitiligo, alopecia, and psoriasis, often have lower self-esteem and increased feelings of self-consciousness.
  • Depression and anxiety: Related to self-esteem, people living with this condition have higher rates of depression and anxiety disorder. Increasingly, treatment of these issues is seen as central to taking on vitiligo.
  • Quality of life: Those experiencing vitiligo are also likely to feel isolated and stigmatized. They may view their pigmentation as devastating, which impacts both social behavior and career prospects. This can further impact mental health.

It’s important to remember that these feelings and effects are natural, and they can be managed.

Facing Mental Health Challenges

If you’re struggling emotionally due to this condition, let your doctor know. Medical professionals can help you develop a means of managing these issues. Counseling in individualized or group settings, talking to friends and family, and seeking support from others with the condition (online or in person) also can help.   

Physical

While lifestyle changes and other measures can’t reverse the effects of vitiligo on skin pigmentation, they certainly can help manage them. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the key to healthy skin is preventing sun exposure. Tanning or sunburns can cause discolored patches to become more prominent and to spread.

Preventing sun exposure entails:

  • Daily sunscreen use: The AAD recommends you apply sunscreen to all skin not covered by your clothing about 15 minutes before you go out. Use products that offer protection from both ultraviolet A and B (UVA and UVB) rays, have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and are waterproof.
  • Protective clothing: Clothing, of course, also prevents sun exposure, with certain fabrics (such as denim) offering more protection than others. It’s good to wear long sleeves, as T-shirts—especially light-colored ones—are less effective at keeping the sun out.
  • Seeking shade: Avoiding direct exposure to sunlight being key, it’s always good to seek out shade when you’re outdoors. Also, try to avoid sunlight during the middle of the day.
  • Safe skin coloring: If you’re considering adding color to your white patches of skin, make sure you’re using safe, nontoxic self-tanners, concealing creams, dyes, or makeup. Waterproof self-tanners containing dihydroxyacetone and dyes are best for longer-lasting results.
  • Other tips: Avoid sunlamps, tanning beds, and getting tattoos, which can cause new patches of discolored skin within 14 days, a condition called Koebner's phenomenon.

Additionally, your dermatologist (a medical specialist in skin, hair, and nails) or other doctor may recommend light therapy (also known as phototherapy). This involves regular exposure of depigmented skin to UVB rays from specialized lamps. This therapy can be done at home or in clinics.

Light therapy may be paired with the application of topical steroids or vitamin D analogue creams, such as calcipotriol and tacalcitol. 

Social

In addition to managing the physical symptoms of vitiligo, it is essential for those with this condition to find social support. Finding connection and community is essential when facing the low self-esteem, stigmatization, and other factors caused by this condition. Luckily, there are many helpful resources out there, and it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.

Who and what can help? Here’s a breakdown:

  • Family and friends: It’s a good idea to talk to your family and friends about your condition and how you’re feeling. They can be an excellent source of emotional and practical support.
  • Support groups: Especially if you’re struggling with the stigma and isolation associated with vitiligo, talking to others with this or other chronic skin conditions can be invaluable.
  • Online communities: Social media groups and online discussion forums, by connecting you to the global community of people with the condition, can also be sources of connection and support.
  • Advocacy organizations: Organizations, such as Vitiligo Support International and the American Vitiligo Research Foundation (AVRF) connect patients with resources and help advocate for research and awareness of the condition.

A Word From Verywell

If you are experiencing physical, emotional, and social distress due to your vitiligo, there are many resources out there that can help. You are not alone, and you don't have to suffer in silence. Reach out to your doctor, friends, family, or a support group to find the resources and support that are right for you.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Vitiligo: types, symptoms, causes, treatment & recovery. Updated January 13, 2020.

  2.  Grimes P, Miller M. Vitiligo: patient stories, self-esteem, and the psychological burden of disease. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2018;4(1):32-37. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2017.11.005

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Vitiligo: tips for managing.

  4. Liu K. Vitiligo: more than skin deep. Updated September 26, 2019.