What's your trigger?
A lot has been written about the possible causes of #vitiligo. The growing body of published material appears to lead in so many different directions that you could be forgiven for concluding that medical opinion is hopelessly divided on the subject. Some research points to a genetic cause, some to autoimmune involvement, others to oxidative stress, others to trauma, whilst some implicate digestive disorders and yet others environmental factors. Confused yet? Don't be!
The more I read, the clearer it becomes to me that none of these theories is mutually exclusive. In fact, they all build up a picture of vitiligo aetiology that starts to make sense. Although different researchers are coming at the problem from different angles, there is a pretty good consensus on the point that there are indeed multiple causes and processes involved in the development of vitiligo and that, in the majority of cases, two or more of these need to occur in order for depigmentation to result.
The first of these factors is #genetic. Some individuals have vitiligo susceptibility genes, meaning that these are the people who are likely to develop vitiligo some time during their life. Typically, this will happen when they encounter certain #environmental triggers. These triggers create an autoimmune response in the genetically susceptible person which causes the body's immune system to attack its own melanocytes, resulting in lost pigment.
That much seems to be relatively clear. The complicated part – at least from my point of view – is identifying the possible triggers and avoiding them. Most of the known categories are listed in the opening paragraph of this post but how to avoid all of them is not always a simple matter. Here are some of my thoughts on each of them.
So, it's clear to me that I have no control over genetics and limited control over my tendency to autoimmunity but there is a lot I can do to reduce oxidative stress, trauma, poor digestion and exposure to harmful substances. My dramatic repigmentation after adopting a nutritional programme is proof enough for me that I can keep digestive triggers under control. And ever since then I have also become much more aware of the need to avoid environmental risks too. I now look closely at the labels on the household and personal care items I buy and the fabrics I come into contact with.
I have blogged on this topic several times before but I want to highlight it again because environmental triggers for vitiligo are rarely talked about by doctors and so there may be a lot of people out there who have vitiligo and are unaware that the products they use on a daily basis could be causing new patches of depigmentation or making existing patches worse.
Given that I have a genetic predisposition to developing vitiligo, I realise that I cannot afford to expose my skin to the same high street brands of highly chemically processed products that most people seem to be able to use without any apparent ill effects. Switching from commercial hair dyes and other toxic beauty products to natural alternatives that contain no known vitiligo triggers was one of the first things I did once I became aware of the dangers. Then I started to think about the importance of selecting fabrics that did not contain potentially harmful chemicals (like many commonly-used dyes and synthetic fibres). After all, our skin is in contact with the clothes we wear all day and then it is exposed to whatever our bedding is made of all night. So, unless we live in a nudist colony and sleep standing up, we are in direct contact with fabrics 24/7. This is why I decided to include therapeutic and protective, dermatological clothing and bedding in Vitiligo Store and why, having researched, sourced and tested the best products available, I would recommend them to anyone with a susceptibility to vitiligo, or indeed any chronic skin condition.
The first item I tried out myself was Dermasilk gloves as I felt my hands were a priority because:
a) they are repeatedly exposed to household products, detergents, etc.
b) maybe worse still, they are in regular contact with rubber gloves*
c) they are one of the most common sites for developing vitiligo, and
d) they are one of the hardest parts of the body to repigment.
*I now wear these comfortable, soothing gloves inside my rubber gloves for all household chores which has reduced my skin exposure to harmful chemicals to zero, including those toxic ingredients in the rubber gloves themselves. Not surpisingly, the way my hands feel inside the therapeutic gloves is the complete opposite of how they used to feel when I wore rubber gloves on their own. Instead of feeling hot, sticky and irritated (I regularly used to feel as if my rubber gloves were biting me - like an insect... has anyone else experienced that?) and emerging with that nasty warm rubber smell, they now feel cool, comfortable and soothed, however long I wear them, and have no unpleasant smell once removed. It's enough to make you want to do housework all day... well, maybe not!!! ... but it is certainly a very simple, pleasant and effective way to avoid many of the environmental triggers that I would otherwise encounter on a daily basis.
My name is Caroline.