There is no known cure for vitiligo. However, treatment may help to improve your skin’s appearance by:
- restoring pigment, or colour, to your skin, and
- helping to control the spread of the condition.
Treatment for vitiligo is not always successful. See the Complications section for more information about this.
Treatment from your GP
If you have new white patches on your skin that do not cover a large area, your GP may prescribe a corticosteroid (steroid) cream. This can sometimes stop the spread of the patches, and may restore your original skin colour.
Your GP will tell you how to apply the cream to the patches and how much you should apply.
The strength of the steroid cream may vary, depending on where your white patches are. For example, your GP may prescribe:
- a mild cream for patches on your face, or
- a stronger cream for patches on your upper body, arms or legs.
Initially, your GP may advise you to use the cream for between four to six weeks. Steroid cream should only be used for a limited time because long-term use may cause side effects such as:
- streaks, or lines, in your skin (striae), or
- thinning of your skin (atrophy).
Monitoring the progress of your treatment
Your GP will review the progress of your treatment regularly. They may ask to see you every six weeks in order to monitor your progress.
To assess whether your vitiligo is improving your GP may:
- use a special ultraviolet lamp to examine your skin, or
- take photographs of your skin.
If your treatment is working and you don’t have any side effects, your GP may recommend taking a break and then continuing with your treatment.
For example, they may suggest that you have a break from treatment for four weeks, then continue with another course of treatment for four weeks. Your progress will be reviewed again after this period.
Protection from the sun
When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it produces a pigment called melanin to help protect it from ultraviolet light.
If you have vitiligo, sunburn is a real risk because of the lack of melanin in your skin. Always apply a high factor sun cream, with sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or above, to protect your skin from sunburn and long-term damage. This is particularly important if you have fair skin.
Protecting your skin from the sun will also minimise tanning, which will help to make your vitiligo much less noticeable.
Referral to a specialist
If the white patches are on visible parts of your body, such as your face, your GP will probably refer you to a skin-care clinic or specialist for advice about skin camouflage.
Your GP may also refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist) if, for example:
- treatment with steroids has been unsuccessful,
- the white patches cover a large area of your body, or
- the white patches cover the whole of your body (universal vitiligo), which is rare.
Your specialist may consider other types of treatment, such as those described below.
Skin camouflage involves applying coloured creams to your skin to help the white patches blend with the rest of your skin. The creams match your skin’s natural colour. Some colour creams can be prescribed on the NHS.
For advice about skin camouflage, your GP may refer you to:
- a specialist in skin conditions (dermatologist),
- a dermatology clinic, or
- the Red Cross, which runs more than 250 skin camouflage clinics throughout the UK.
See Useful links for more information about the Red Cross.
You can also get skin camouflage cream that includes sun block, or sun protection factor (SPF).
Self-tanning lotion (fake tan) may also help to cover vitiligo. Some types can last for several days before you need to reapply them. Self-tanning lotion is available from most pharmacies.
Light therapy (phototherapy)
Treatment with light therapy may be used if the white patches cover a large part of your body. In almost half of all cases of vitiligo, light therapy works well and returns the original colour to the skin.
During light therapy, your skin is exposed to ultraviolet A (UVA) light from a special lamp, after you have had a medicine (psoralen) that makes your skin more sensitive to the light. You can take the medicine by mouth (orally), or you can add it to your bath water. This type of treatment is sometimes called PUVA (psoralen and ultraviolet A light).
PUVA can increase the risk of skin cancer because of the extra exposure to UVA rays. Therefore, it is not recommended for children or pregnant women.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) light is also sometimes used in light therapy.
Doctors may recommend depigmentation for people who have vitiligo on more than 50% of their bodies.
During depigmentation, the unaffected skin is faded in order to remove its colour (pigment) and match the white areas. A special medicine is applied to the white patches twice a day, for a year. Depigmentation is permanent and cannot be reversed.
Your doctor may consider using skin grafts if the white patches have stopped developing. This type of treatment is time consuming. It is not always successful, and has a risk of scarring.
During a skin graft, a surgeon will remove a thin layer of normal skin from one area of your body and attach it to the white area.
Sometimes, your doctor may recommend trying more than one treatment. For example, calcipotriol cream is sometimes used alongside light therapy, and tacrolimus or pimecrolimus creams are sometimes used with laser therapy.
Counselling and support groups
If you have vitiligo, you may find it helpful to speak to a psychologist, or join a vitiligo support group. This may help you to understand more about your condition, and to come to terms with your skin’s appearance.
Your GP may refer you to a psychologist, or a counsellor, who will be able to help you, or they may be able to give you information about support groups. See Useful links for more information about support groups for vitiligo.