Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition that targets the melanocytes, which are the skin cells that produce melanin and give your skin its color. Areas of your skin affected by vitiligo show up as white patches.

These patches may stay the same or get bigger, and new patches may show up on other parts of the body. There’s no cure for vitiligo, but treatments are available to slow the spread of patches.

People with vitiligo will respond differently to certain treatments. As you go through the process of treating vitiligo, it’s smart to gather as much information as you can.

Your care team may include a dermatologist, a doctor specializing in skin care and conditions.

Not sure what to ask? Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor as you make decisions about your treatment plan.

Deciding whether to get treatment for vitiligo is a personal decision. If you’re not sure whether treatment is right for you, this could be an important conversation to have with your doctor. Treatments can often help restore your skin’s color and slow or stop the spread of vitiligo patches.

There’s no right or wrong way to live with vitiligo. Some people do not treat their vitiligo but may use makeup to even their skin tone. Others do not treat their vitiligo or cover it up.

If you decide not to receive treatment for vitiligo, that’s totally OK. There’s no harm to your health if you do not seek treatment for vitiligo.

There are different treatment options for vitiligo. Your options will depend on how long you’ve had the condition and the type and size of your vitiligo patches.

If you decide to treat your vitiligo, your doctor may discuss the following options with you:

  • Topical steroid treatments: Steroid creams can slow the spread of vitiligo patches or start to restore color. These are used directly on the areas of vitiligo and tend to work best if vitiligo is new.
  • Prednisone: Oral prednisone medication may help lower the immune response that has triggered vitiligo. This can slow the spread of vitiligo patches and is only recommended for short-term use.
  • Light therapy: Phototherapy may be used to restore skin color if you have vitiligo on large areas of your body. Phototherapy uses a measured amount of UV exposure to the vitiligo patches. If you have a few smaller patches, laser therapy may be used instead.

It’s wise to review the benefits and any risks of these treatments before you get started.

If you’ve tried several treatments without much change, you may want to ask if surgery is an option. Surgery is not recommended for everyone. It may be considered if other treatments are not working.

There are two main types of surgery:

  • Skin graft surgery: Healthy skin from another area is transplanted onto a vitiligo patch.
  • Cell transplant surgery: Instead of transplanting a section of skin, cells are removed from healthy skin. These cells are transplanted into areas of vitiligo. Any return of skin color happens mainly within the first 6 months.

Surgery may not be recommended for you if you:

  • have had new areas of vitiligo show up in the past year
  • have current patches of vitiligo that have grown in the past year
  • easily develop raised scars

If you’re starting something new, it’s helpful to know what to expect. Many treatments take weeks to months before you’ll notice any change in your skin.

Before starting treatment, become familiar with the plan. Using treatment as directed can boost the odds of getting results. Talk with your doctor about the follow-up plan. Follow-up is a chance to monitor progress and discuss any questions or concerns early.

If you’re using a topical steroid, results are usually seen within 3 to 4 months. Sometimes they’re intermittently used for longer if they’re working. If there has not been any improvement by that point, they’re usually stopped.

Phototherapy can take many months to achieve full results. In general, at least 6 months of treatment is required to determine the effect of phototherapy. Research suggests that longer treatment with phototherapy has better results.

Some treatments work best when in combination with other treatments. Many topical treatments work better if phototherapy is also done.

There’s also research into using microdermabrasion as part of vitiligo treatment. Studies have shown that it may increase the effectiveness of several topical treatments.

Any treatment can have side effects. Before you start treatment, make sure to ask your doctor about possible side effects.

Here are some of the common side effects of different vitiligo treatments:

  • Topical steroid treatments: These may thin the skin, create stretch marks, or cause extra hair growth.
  • Light therapy: UV or laser treatment may cause redness or skin irritation at treatment sites.
  • Prednisone: This can cause several effects, including fatigue, insomnia, headaches, restlessness, and more. Prednisone is typically only used for a week or two.

Even side effects that are considered “normal” can be hard to deal with. Make sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor.

If you’re curious about the latest in vitiligo care and treatments, your doctor is a great resource.

Previously, all vitiligo treatments were off-label use. In July 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first official treatment for vitiligo. Opzelura is a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor cream for people with nonsegmental vitiligo. It targets an immune pathway that triggers the inflammation that damages melanocytes. When this immune response is reduced, melanocytes can create pigment again.

There’s also interest in another treatment called afamelanotide. Afamelanotide is implanted under the skin. It shows promise in stimulating melanocytes in the skin, which can increase the production of melanin. A small study showed better outcomes when afamelanotide was used in combination with phototherapy.

There may be clinical trials for vitiligo that you could qualify to be a part of. Clinical trials are a way to learn more about vitiligo and explore treatment options. You can ask your doctor whether they know of any trials you could join.

If you notice any changes in your skin, you should let your doctor know. If you work with a dermatologist, they can help address any of your skin concerns.

When you live with vitiligo, there are other things you can do to care for your skin.

Melanin helps provide the skin with UV protection. Vitiligo patches lack melanin, so your skin is more sensitive to the sun. You are more likely to get sunburn.

Here are some things you can do to protect your skin from the sun:

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat when you’re outside.
  • Use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen along with SPF lip balm.
  • Stay in the shade.

Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition. This type of condition occurs when the body’s immune system mistakes a healthy part of the body for an intruder. It launches an attack, causing damage. In vitiligo, the melanocytes are targeted by the immune system.

If someone has one autoimmune condition, they’re more likely to develop another one. It’s estimated that 15% to 25% of people with vitiligo also live with another autoimmune condition.

If you notice other changes in your health, mention them to your doctor. Your doctor may recommend additional testing or referrals.

People with vitiligo also have higher rates of depression and anxiety. This is related to the stigma of living with such a visual health condition.

The changes in your skin from vitiligo can make it very difficult. Research shows that having a solid support network can improve mental health in people with vitiligo.

Whether you have recently developed vitiligo or if you’ve lived with it for a while, asking questions about your options will help you to be more informed.

There are many decisions to make when it comes to treatment. Learning about treatment options, side effects, and ways to manage your overall health are all part of living with vitiligo.