Lichen Sclerosus Vs. Vitiligo

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This is a look at the similarities and differences between vitiligo and lichen sclerosus.

Loss of pigment in the skin can be an extremely unnerving process. The sufferer might wonder if the condition is merely cosmetic or a symptom of something more dangerous. Even when it is discovered that a pigment loss is "only" cosmetic, it can still be very traumatic. It can cause the sufferer to feel freakish or unattractive and may prompt isolation or avoidance of friends and activities. Two common conditions that produce loss of pigment are lichen sclerosus and vitiligo. Here is a little bit of information about them along with their differences and similarities.

Vitiligo is a condition where the skin loses pigmentation due to destruction of the color-producing cells known as melanocytes. While it is currently unclear what causes the body to destroy these cells, doctors theorize that it may be due to a weakened immune system.

Regardless of the cause, vitiligo produces patches of stark white skin that can appear anywhere on the body. Men and women contract the problem at equal rates, and race does not seem to be a factor in the likelihood of having the condition. The problem often starts early, before the age of 40, and the patches can sometimes spread to cover large areas of the body.

Treatment of vitiligo often includes cosmetic dyes that match the vitiliginous skin to the normal color, UV light therapy, or topical steroids. There is, however, no cure for vitiligo, and these treatments are not effective for everybody.

Lichen sclerosus also involves depigmentation of the skin but occurs much more often in women than men. Like vitiligo, doctors are unsure of what causes the condition but suspect some kind of immune system deficiency. Variations in hormone levels is also considered a potential cause.

The appearance of lichen sclerosus is much the same as vitiligo, with white patches forming, and sometimes growing, anywhere on the body. With lichen sclerosus, these patches may become thin, wrinkly, and bleed or bruise easily.

Treatment depends a lot on the location of the patches and the severity of them. In some cases, no treatment at all is required because, unlike vitiligo, they will go away with time. However, if the patches are severe enough, steroids, light treatments, or even drugs like Retin-A can be used.

Lichen sclerosus can be a particular problem if it is contracted on the genitals, where it can prevent sex or cause permanent scarring. In these cases, surgery is sometimes considered due to the skin-thinning effects of long-term topical steroid use. If scarring should occur, it can be treated surgically but only after the lichen sclerosus has been adequately controlled.

Both vitiligo and lichen sclerosus cause similar symptoms and in many cases are even treated the same way. If white patches appear, it is necessary to have a doctor check them out to determine if they are being caused by one of these conditions.