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Finding a Treatment for Light Patches

Combining a sensitizing medication with special light therapy offers an effective treatment for vitiligo.

People with the autoimmune skin condition vitiligo have depigmented spots on their skin. This is especially noticeable in individuals with a darker skin color.

Until recently, there have been few, if any, effective treatments for vitiligo. Dermatologists at the Henry Ford hospital in Detroit report in JAMA Dermatology that they have had success achieving re-pigmentation of skin affected by vitiligo.

They administered a medication called afamelanotide which encourages skin pigment and then treated patients with narrow-band ultraviolet B phototherapy. The volunteers received two to three phototherapy sessions a week for six months.

In a comparison with phototherapy alone, combination therapy worked faster and was more effective. Nearly 50 percent of those treated with this dual approach had satisfactory re-pigmentation at six months.

[JAMA Dermatology, online, Sept. 17, 2014]


Vitiligo is not life-threatening, but many people find the light splotches on their skin are distressing or embarrassing. Having a more effective treatment is certainly good news for them. It is not clear from the study, however, whether this treatment offers lasting repigmentation, or if ongoing treatment is needed to maintain it.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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