... that could be making your white patches worse
This week I want to highlight a cruel #vitiligo irony... and offer some tried and tested solutions.
Most people who have vitiligo use various strategies to help them cope on a daily basis with their white patches. Whether these strategies are aimed at treating the condition itself or just concealing it, there is a cruel irony in the fact that the very solutions many of us use to try to make things better may, in reality, be making them worse.
One of the clearest definitions of the word “irony” that I ever read (apart from the illustration above!) sums up what I am talking about: "a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result".
Not that there is anything particularly amusing about vitiligo. But, ever since I started to reading extensively on the subject, I have had to smile – well, wince really – each time I come across another of these ironies. I gradually became aware, one discovery at a time, that many of my efforts, over five decades, to cope with my vitiligo had probably been preventing it from healing and actually causing it to spread like wildfire (taking out every fire hydrant in its path).
So, here is some information that I hope will help you avoid the pitfalls that caught me out in my quest for vitiligo solutions. The good news is that for every strategy that could be harming you there is an alternative one that should genuinely help instead. So, for the ten vitiligo strategies that could be making your pigment loss worse (and, more importantly, for the solutions you can use instead), read on. I will tackle the first five in this post and continue with the remainder next week to save this post going on for ever!
Clothes were my first line of defence in covering up my vitiligo. I'm not suggesting you stop wearing them! But the wrong types of clothes - typically tight synthetic fabrics containing petrochemical ingredients and/or dark dyes (dark, stretch jeans come to mind) - are the worst choices. Not only are the chemicals used in manufacturing, dying and treating these sorts of garments a threat to your skin, but the friction caused when wearing tight clothing can also lead to inflammation and pigment loss (see this post on the Koebner phenomenon for more details).
I now avoid synthetic fabrics, dark dyes and very tight clothing wherever possible and, if I can't resist the odd garment that poses a threat, I make sure I wear a DermaSilk garment underneath. This creates a physical barrier and also soothes any irritation.
This used to be my number two strategy for covering up all the white patches that were not hidden by clothing. The winter months weren't too bad because my natural skin colour is relatively light anyway. But in the summer, I used self-tans on an ongoing basis so that I didn't have to wear long sleeves and trousers all the time. Looking back, it was during the years when I used self-tans the most often that my vitiligo spread the fastest. I didn't put two and two together at the time but I now know that DHA, the active ingredient in self-tanning products, causes higher levels of free radicals in the skin when exposed to sunlight. And, of course, since free radical damage is thought to be one of the mechanisms involved in the development of vitiligo, adding to the problem is the worst thing you can do.
I no longer use self-tans containing DHA. I am fortunate in having repigmented almost totally but, if I do occasionally want to mask the few remaining pale patches on my hands and feet I find that a natural mineral powder foundation, set with a damp cloth is usually enough to do the job.
I started wearing quite heavy foundation at school to conceal my "panda eyes" and the loss of pigmentation at the corners of my mouth and I relied more and more on covering up my vitiligo with makeup as time went by. Again, the irony of this is that for years I was subjecting my already compromised skin to some of the very chemicals known to cause irritation and contact leukoderma. Like most females, I also used to use high street personal care items like deodorants, shampoos, soaps and perfumes, unaware that all of these were almost certainly contributing to the problem.
I now quite often wear little or no makeup. But, when I do want to glam it up, I reach for 100% natural, organic products. I use a good quality, organic coconut oil as a moisturiser, deodorant, conditioner, lip balm and makeup remover. And I only ever spray perfume onto the outside of my clothing, never directly on my skin.
4. Hair & lash dyes
After years of beautiful big, wild 1980s perms, I started, prematurely, to develop greys along my hairline and at my temples (a symptom of my vitiligo that was no doubt aggravated by the harsh perming solutions). Then, to compound the error, I started to use permanent dyes in order to hide the greys! I also resorted to lash dyes to save the bother of applying mascara every day. Given that I already had some vitiligo on my scalp and a sprinkling of white eyelashes, the last thing I should have done was to repeatedly apply chemical dyes to these areas. Such dyes contain a host of harsh, industrial grade ingredients including ammonia, PPD, parabens, propylene glycol, DTA, phenoxyethanol, peroxide, resorcinol, heavy metals and artificial fragrances and are among the consumer products most frequently cited as likely to cause chemical depigmentation.
Now I only ever use henna to colour my hair and my current favourite is this semi-permanent range which I find actually gives me better colour, condition and grey coverage than the chemical-based permanent colours I used to use. And instead of dying my lashes I only use mascara (preferably a 100% natural one) and make sure I remove it thoroughly every night with coconut oil.
5. Protecting your skin from chemicals
I have always worn rubber gloves to wash the dishes and do any housework involving chemical agents in the mistaken belief that this would keep my skin from coming into contact with substances that might make my vitiligo worse. Sure enough, the gloves protected me from the cleaning agents but what I didn't realise was that the gloves themselves contained chemicals known to cause depigmentation (will the irony never end?!!).
I still wear rubber gloves for household chores but now I wear special protective dermatological gloves inside them.
I really hope that this information will help you to protect yourself from the potential triggers that surround us in our modern every day environment and that the solutions I suggest (or maybe other solutions that you find yourself) will enable you to substitute safe alternatives. This is not the end of the topic though. Don't miss next week's continuation of this subject when I will have five more vitiligo solutions that may be doing more harm than good... and five more safer alternatives. Thanks for reading, and see you then!
A vitiligo blogger since 2011. My name is Caroline. I had vitiligo for nearly 50 years before finding an effective treatment. I created this blog to share my experiences with others affected by this skin condition.