Vitiligo is a skin condition marked by areas of skin with no pigment cells that appear white. Skin's color comes from the pigment cells and when those cells are damaged or destroyed, they no longer produce pigment, which is why white or colorless spots appear. It's unclear what causes this condition, but according to the National Vitiligo Foundation (NVF), around 2-4 million Americans have the condition. While people of any color can develop vitiligo, it's most noticeable and therefore debilitating in people with dark skin.
Recently, more treatment options have become available, including treatment with the excimer laser. Dr. Lori Brightman, Board Certified Dermatologist of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York says that the excimer laser offers a way to help bring the pigment back for patients suffering with vitiligo. "So many people still don't know that you can actually use the excimer laser to treat vitiligo," she says. "You can actually bring the color back."
Dr. Brightman goes on to say that those with localized vitiligo really see some great re-pigmentation. "There is a very specific wavelength of light that we use," she says. "But it does take a lot of treatments and a lot of patience on the patient's part." Dr. Brightman says patients will need about 2 treatments weekly for at least 2 months to see if the patient going to have any improvement, although some patients will see a difference before then. After that point, the doctor will follow up with the patient and additional future treatments may be needed. "I've had some very wonderful results and it's really great for patients."
She does say that the treatment is best for localized vitiligo. "That means that it's confined to small areas. Also, there are certain areas on the body that are much harder to re-pigment, for example the hands and feet. I do still have some patients who end up re-pigmenting on the hands, but again we have to be persistent." Dr. Brightman says she uses the laser along with other topical medicines, and with the percentage of patients who see an improvement, the treatment is worth investigating.
Dr. Brightman also says that the excimer laser has become a popular option for other patients as well. "Interestingly, I've found that I'm using it on different body parts now, so I'm not just using it on the face and neck," she says. "I'm also using it on the chest, and I like it for crepey skin on the legs. Also, it's good for the interior of the arms or the upper arms, and even the interior thighs."