Isn't it just a cosmetic disorder?

Like it or not, we live in a society where appearance matters. It should come as no surprise that vitiligo impacts on the psychological well-being and quality of life of those who have to endure it.

For more than 1.6 million people in the US affected by vitiligo, it is far more than just a skin condition. Many people experience social rejection and stigmatization, which dramatically lowers their self-esteem. Coping with vitiligo can create stress, and stress can make vitiligo get worse, in a vicious cycle.

Vitiligo can affect people more emotionally than physically. What is truly shocking is that vitiligo is associated with an increased risk of suicide. It can often be difficult to express exactly how it makes you feel to your friends, family and even doctor. Some teens often feel that their physician regards vitiligo as a minor skin complaint and is dismissive of the emotional aspects, thus leaving many to embrace lifelong self-isolation.

When the direct and indirect financial implications of vitiligo are considered, the figures are dreadful. Direct costs include doctor visits, phototherapy and systemic treatments, that may go well above $5,000 per year. Vitiligo patients are frequently prescribed phototherapy sessions, which can take 1-2 hours off work, 2-3 times per week, for 6-9 months. This can lead to difficulties for those in demanding careers that require long hours and uninterrupted focus. Indirect costs may include a different choice of employment and neighborhood, among many.

Unfortunately, the perception of this disease as a cosmetic disorder is hard to overcome. Educating people about vitiligo, of course, isn't practical in every situation. There are times when you have to simply ignore the stares.

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I support the petition to designate June 25 as Vitiligo World Day and save millions of people worldwide from social isolation and persecution.

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