For the sake of everyone who finds #VitiligoProtocol a bit of a mouthful and bothersome to key into their browser, I am happy to announce that I have re-branded my #VitiligoSupportSite and #VitiligoBlog. I have shortened the name to something much more memorable: TheVitPro. I haven't changed the design too much - except for the colour scheme - because I want all my regular visitors to realise that they have still landed in the right place! I hope you like the new look site. But, most of all, I hope you find all the information there helpful and encouraging.
I keep learning more about vitiligo every day and continue to add as much information and inspiration as I can, so keep dropping by. And feel free to get in touch. I am always happy to hear from anyone affected by vitiligo, to answer questions on my re-pigmentation and to share and exchange tips and experiences. I believe that knowledge, #SelfHelp and mutual #support are our best weapons against this vastly underestimated, underfunded and underpublicised condition.
It looks exactly like vitiligo but could have an environmental cause
Chemical leukoderma (sometimes loosely referred to as occupational vitiligo) is the loss of areas of skin pigment due to contact with certain chemicals. It is not the same as idiopathic vitiligo and anyone can suffer from it, whether they have a history of vitiligo or not.
The first cases of depigmentation that were identified as occupational leukoderma occurred in workers who were required to wear rubber garments or gloves that contained monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone. Hospital cleaning staff who handle industrial cleaning agents containing phenolic antiseptic detergents are also known to have suffered chemical depigmentation.
I have always assumed that most environmental exposure to harmful substances occurs in the industrial workplace but so-called occupational vitiligo can result from chemical contact at home or during normal daily activities. The worst chemical culprits are compounds called substituted phenols, as these are known to be destructive to functional melanocytes and can cause permanent #depigmentation of the skin, resembling vitiligo. The most commonly implicated chemicals are para-tertiary butyl phenol, para-tertiary butyl catechol, monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone, hydroquinone and related compounds.
Here is a list of some of the everyday items that have been known to cause depigmentation when handled on a regular basis:
One of the ironic things about this whole subject is that, because I have sensitive skin and a history of idiopathic vitiligo myself, I have always made a point of using rubber gloves before handling household cleaners. But, as it turns out, the very items I was relying on to protect me from harmful chemical exposure are themselves listed among the hazards I should be avoiding!
So, how on earth are we supposed to steer clear of these chemical nasties lurking in our everyday items and garments? Well, unless we want to spend half our life researching the ingredients that went into the manufacture of every individual product we purchase, the simplest way is to select the least complicated and most natural alternatives available on the market every time - i.e. natural fabrics and simple, traditional formulations - and even, wherever possible, make them yourself out of good old fashioned, natural ingredients.
But, if you are into reading lists, here are some of the ingredients to avoid - it is not an exhaustive list but will hopefully enable you to avoid some of the most pernicious chemical hazards out there:
Monobenzylether of hydroquinone
Monoethylether of hydroquinone (p-ethoxyphenol)
Monomethylether of hydroquinone (p-methoxyphenol)
Mercaptoamines, e.g. N-2-mercaptoethyl-dimethylamine hydrochloride (MEDA)
My own vitiligo has virtually gone now, thanks to using the natural healing power of proper nutrition and sunshine. But, knowing that we are surrounded by so many hidden environmental toxins in today's high-tech, highly processed consumer society, I will be looking very carefully indeed in future at the products I buy and use on a regular basis.
Are you dressed to kill?
Ever since I was a teenager I’ve loved shopping for new clothes. I still enjoy the guilty pleasures of carrying my purchases home, emptying them out onto the bed and staging my own private fashion show! Clothes are a great outlet for self-expression and individuality. They can make a huge difference to how we feel about ourselves: the right outfit can help us to feel comfortable, confident, professional, powerful, relaxed, romantic, you name it. Let’s face it, clothes also keep us warm - and without them we’d feel pretty foolish! One thing I never stopped to consider though - until now - was that my clothing might possibly be making me ill.
I began to develop vitiligo (#leukoderma) at an early age and, as it gradually spread, I noticed that new white patches often appeared after a period of intense itching, often accompanied by an angry-looking rash. I also noticed that certain materials irritated my skin if I came into contact with them. For example, the labels that are typically found in the necks of T-shirts and sweaters, the elastic and invisible thread used in some garments and – rather bizarrely I always thought - car seat belts, if they came into contact with my skin would cause an itchy, red reaction virtually immediately.
At the same time as my skin was becoming more sensitive I also developed #allergic rhinitis (runny nose, itchy throat and eyes, etc.). I also suffered from digestive problems and aching joints and was variously diagnosed with IBS and ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Both these diagnoses seemed to me to be a convenient way of labelling a bunch of apparently unrelated symptoms that my doctors didn’t know how to explain or treat. I always felt that all these symptoms were connected in some way because whenever one became worse, they all became worse and if one improved, they all did.
My increasingly poor general health has been a frustration to me throughout my adult life because I remember being such an active and energetic individual until I reached my early twenties. I have never thought of myself as a weak or sickly person and I am not a hypochondriac (although you would be forgiven for thinking so). I simply became more unwell as time went by and have never understood why. The only way I could describe how I felt was to say that it was as if I were being slowly poisoned – which was, needless to say, totally ridiculous… or was it?
Could it be that I was, in fact, being gradually poisoned by an accumulation of toxic chemicals from somewhere in my environment and that this build-up caused – or at least aggravated - all my ailments, including my vitiligo? I simply don’t know, of course, because the difficulty with symptoms like these is that they can have any number of different causes, just like vitiligo itself. One thing I am convinced of is that my vitiligo was a result of digestive issues because my dramatic and permanent repigmentation, using a nutritional approach, clearly demonstrated this. But what, I wonder, caused the digestive problems in the first place? And are my allergies and aching joints also a result of the same digestive deficiency or could environmental factors have been involved in the entire process?
What I can safely say is that, whether you suffer from vitiligo or allergies or IBS or ME, or any other chronic condition, your body’s ability to deal with harmful environmental influences is compromised. And if you are coming into prolonged and repeated contact with allergens and toxins this will inevitably exacerbate your symptoms and possibly trigger new ones.
So, what potentially harmful substances do we all come into contact with for prolonged periods on a daily basis? A frighteningly large number, as it turns out, and a lot of them are present in our clothing and bedding.
As far as I was concerned, synthetic fabrics were a triumph of modern technology – a game-changing contribution to the world of fashion and they had the added benefit of being easy to care for. But, apparently, today’s clothing industry uses a staggering 8,000 different synthetic chemicals and these have been linked to a rise in skin disorders, respiratory diseases, contact dermatitis, infertility and even cancers. More worrying still is the fact that this applies to children’s clothing, bedding and toys too.
#Petrochemicals in the synthetic fibres themselves are not the only culprits. The dyes used to create today’s multi-coloured wardrobe choices can also contain a harmful cocktail of industrial by-products and the treatments used to protect, fireproof , waterproof and dress many garments, which include formaldehyde, are equally pernicious. So it is little wonder that continued close contact with these substances can cause surface irritation at best and, worse still, can be absorbed through the skin and introduce an excessive #toxic burden into your system, which it may not be able to deal with, resulting eventually in chronic illness.
Unfortunately, the fabrics and clothing industries are not required by law to publish lists of the chemicals used during manufacture of their products or to include them on their labels, so the only way to be reasonably sure we avoid most of these “nasties” is to buy all our clothes, bedding and towels in natural fabrics, preferably organic, unbleached and un-dyed. With the best will in the world, this would make for a pretty limited wardrobe and would, in any case, be hard to achieve. But, when it comes to contaminants of any kind, the more you can reduce exposure, the better for your health, even if you can’t eliminate them altogether. So, it’s well worth doing a bit of research before you buy. This website, for example, might be a good place to start looking for suitable suppliers.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that synthetic clothing is the single root cause of vitiligo, or of any other specific health condition. But what I do believe - as a result of reading up on this fascinating and deeply worrying topic - is that anyone who suffers from any skin disorder or any type of chronic ill health (and even those who don't) would be well advised indeed to think carefully about what they bring home from their next clothes-shopping spree.
Is vitiligo also on the rise?
#Vitiligo is so frequently labelled an autoimmune condition that this view is very rarely challenged. I am not a scientist and would not presume to disagree with successive researchers who have come to this conclusion. There certainly appears to be plenty of evidence that people with certain autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop vitiligo than people who don’t have any autoimmune diseases. And there is also a consensus among vitiligo researchers that there is an autoimmune element involved in the process of pigment loss in vitiligo. But whether autoimmunity is the root cause of vitiligo (or of any autoimmune disease, come to that) or whether in fact it is just part of a physiological chain reaction that actually starts elsewhere in the body no one seems to know. I suspect that the digestive tract may be where such a chain reaction inside the body would start (since this is where most of the body's processes start and since it plays such an important role in the immune system). But I also believe that external influences are almost certainly implicated.
Why are the industrialised nations so sick?
What is clear is that the better known autoimmune diseases (e.g. type 1 diabetes, Graves' disease, vasculitis, myasthenia gravis, connective tissue diseases, autoimmune Addison's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, hemolytic anemia, celiac disease, and scleroderma) are spreading significantly in the western world. Interestingly, I cannot find any references anywhere to a similar rise in the incidence of vitiligo cases. This may be that no one has yet compiled any data on whether the geographical distribution of vitiligo as a population percentage is static or not, or it may just be that I haven't looked in the right places. (So please let me know if you are aware of any such research.)
In any case, the research that has been done into the rise of autoimmune diseases generally clearly shows that this increase is occurring specifically in the developed world - to the extent that it has been dubbed "the Western Disease" - and that it is worse in urban areas than in rural ones. This strongly suggests that either the diet and/or the environment in industrialised countries (and in their cities in particular) are playing a part in the proliferation of these conditions. We are all well aware that the quantities of synthetic ingredients in our highly processed foods and the presence of potentially toxic chemicals and heavy metals in our environment have increased alarmingly over recent decades in the developed world, especially in urban areas. So the likelihood of there being a direct link between these two phenomena seems to me to be self evident. And, whether or not vitiligo is among those autoimmune diseases that are on the rise, the increasing number of toxins and allergens in our environment are bound to have an adverse effect on anyone with either existing vitiligo or a predisposition to it.
According to the author of The Autoimmune Epidemic: Bodies Gone Haywire in a World Out of Balance the incidence of autoimmune disease has tripled in industrialised countries over the last three decades, making them the Number Two cause of chronic illness in America and the third leading cause of Social Security disability behind heart disease and cancer. They are also the eighth leading cause of death among women, shortening the average patient's lifespan by fifteen years. Since women are still exposed more routinely than men to domestic cleaning chemicals it seems likely that these may be one environmental trigger. I have no doubt that there are many more triggers in our western environment and lifestyle and will continue to look at these in future posts.
Humans have used #perfume since the very earliest civilisations. Historians tell us that in ancient times burning resins, spices and sweet herbs was the sole preserve of priests. It was this ceremonial creation of fragrances that eventually gave perfume its name, courtesy of the ancient Romans (“per fumum” being Latin for “through smoke”).
The exclusive ceremonial use of perfumes gradually gave way to its personal application when people started to perfume themselves to mask the stench of unwashed #skin. This ritual was performed using scented oils which could also be used to cleanse the skin and paved the way for the famous bath houses of ancient Greek and Rome.
Nowadays, perfume is considered by most of us as one of life’s must-have items. Of course, incense is still used in some places of religious worship; we perfume our homes and cars with air fresheners; we apply our favourite brand of perfume to our bodies as part of our daily routine; many of us enjoy the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and virtually all of the personal care items available on the market contain perfume. What started out thousands of years ago as a simple ceremonial offering has evolved into the massive, celebrity-fuelled industry that we know and love today!
I used to adore perfume. In fact I used to make my own and really enjoyed creating new and exciting fragrances. It was fascinating to learn about the different #fragrance families, how a well-balanced perfume is constructed of top, middle and base notes and how – just like an artist’s use of colours on a canvas – the different permutations are infinite.
Perfume is one of life’s most indulgent and precious luxuries. Its effect on our thoughts and emotions is powerful and instinctive. It can trigger memories, create moods and attract (or repulse) those around us. Its influence is so primal and potent that if it were a drug it would almost certainly be a banned substance!
However, (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) it is a well-known fact that many people today find they have to avoid products containing perfume because they cause #adverse skin #reactions or sometimes even #breathing problems… hence the alarming increase in the numbers of people who consider themselves to have “sensitivities”. This is hardly surprising when you consider that some of the chemicals contained in our modern perfumes are, in fact, classified as #Hazardous Waste.
What does all this talk about perfumes and sensitive skin have to do with #vitiligo in particular? Well, if you have vitiligo you may, or may not, have an obviously reactive or sensitive skin. (Personally, I am prone to itchy rashes and allergic reactions, especially on depigmented areas.) But anyone with vitiligo does, by definition, have compromised skin in so far as the normal pigmentation process is not functioning as it should. So it makes sense to think twice about applying anything directly to the skin that may have an adverse effect.
Perfumes typically contain #chemicals that can irritate even healthy skin and research shows that people with vitiligo are more vulnerable than the rest of the population to the effects of such ingredients. In particular, vitiligo sufferers are more prone to free radical damage and many of the chemicals found in perfumes increase the already elevated levels of hydrogen peroxide typically found in their skin and thought to be a key contributory factor in pigment loss. Phenols (which can be found in a whole host of perfumes, personal care and household items) have been found to cause the death of melanocytes and other perfume ingredients include benzaldehyde (a known irritant to skin, eyes and lungs), camphor (another known irritant which is readily absorbed through human tissues), ethyl acetate (which causes drying and cracking of the skin), limonene (a carcinogenic irritant and sensitiser), methylene chloride (another carcinogenic substance which, though officially banned, still turns up in some perfumes on the market), a-pinene (a sensitiser which damages the immune system), a-TERPINEOL (highly irritating to mucus membranes).
In fact 95% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum – typically irritant at best and carcinogenic at worst. Regular or repeated application to the skin and inhalation are definitely not recommended and yet isn’t that exactly what perfume is designed for?
Needless to say, I am now no longer as romantic and starry-eyed in the way I think about perfume as I used to be. I still love things (including myself) to smell pleasant. But I choose zero-perfume or naturally fragranced products wherever possible and I never apply any of them directly to my skin. I tend to reserve spray perfumes for special occasions and I only spray my clothes – never my skin. It never seems to stain, as long as I keep the spray very fine. And, in any case, I would far rather spoil the odd garment than bleach my skin or ruin my health!
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.