UCI Health recognizes National Vitiligo Day to raise awareness of skin condition

Immune system abnormality causes skin to lose pigment, resulting in white patches

June 20, 2016

UCI Health recognizes June 25 as National Vitiligo Day to help raise awareness of a condition that causes the skin to lose its normal pigment, resulting in white patches, especially on the face, hands and feet. Caused by an abnormality of the immune system, vitiligo (vit-ill-EYE-go) affects up to 4 percent of the population, or about 70 million people, worldwide.

The most serious health problems are psychological, as patients often suffer from depression and social stigma over their appearance, said Dr. Anand Ganesan, a UCI Health dermatologist and specialist in vitiligo treatment.

“We want to do all we can to raise awareness of this disease and its psychologically devastating effects,” Ganesan said. “It is also very important to let people know that vitiligo can be treated. Seeing the hardships all of these patients face, from discrimination in the workplace to problems with relationships, I am very passionate about caring for them.”

The white patches appear when melanocytes – the cells responsible for producing the skin pigment - die off within the skin. Vitiligo is not life-threatening or contagious, but unpigmented skin is very sensitive to sunburn and some patients experience increased itching in affected areas.

Ganesan treats several hundred patients that have the condition. UC Irvine is the only health system in Orange County to offer specialized treatment for vitiligo, including topical creams, vitamin regimens, and immunotherapies to help prevent the spread of the disease. Repigmentation therapies include ultraviolet A and narrowband ultraviolet B light and excimer laser treatments to stimulate the melanocyte cells, which are located around hair follicles, to migrate out of the hair and into the skin. Skin grafting is also offered for those areas that show resistance to other treatments.

“We are working with the Beckman Laser Institute at UC Irvine to define the factors that induce melanocytes to migrate to depigmented skin after ultraviolet light therapy,” Ganesan said. “Our studies focus on determining why some vitiligo lesions repigment faster than others and identifying the molecular targets that will lead to the design of therapies.”

To learn more about condition, watch the video produced by the Vitiligo Working Group with support from the UCI Health Department of Dermatology.

UCI Health comprises the clinical, medical education and research enterprises of the University of California, Irvine. Patients can access UCI Health at physician offices throughout Orange County and at its main campus, UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, Calif., a 411-bed acute care hospital that provides tertiary and quaternary care, ambulatory and specialty medical clinics, and behavioral health and rehabilitation services. U.S. News & World Report has listed it among America’s Best Hospitals for 15 consecutive years. UC Irvine Medical Center features Orange County’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, high-risk perinatal/neonatal program, Level I trauma center and Level II pediatric trauma center, and it is the primary teaching hospital for the UC Irvine School of Medicine. UCI Health serves a region of more than 3 million people in Orange County, western Riverside County and southeast Los Angeles County. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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