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What Are the Benefits of Lasers for Vitiligo?

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  • Written By: Amanda Livingstone
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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The main benefit of using lasers for treating vitiligo is the ability to speed up the pigmentation-correcting process. Another benefit of using precise lasers for vitiligo is avoiding serious health conditions associated with using corticosteroids and immunomodulators. Lasers can also treat areas that are difficult for conventional vitiligo medications to reach.

Some dermatologists primarily use the excimer laser for treating small patches of vitiligo. The excimer laser uses controlled ultraviolet B (UVB) light to treat the affected areas of the skin by stimulating the melanin-producing cells, or melanocytes, in the skin. Patients usually undergo six to 12 laser treatments for vitiligo. When using lasers for vitiligo, some patients experience an accelerated repigmentation process between two to four weeks. Conventional vitiligo treatments usually take between three to 18 months to see noticeable results.

While lasers for vitiligo can have minor side effects, conventional treatments such as corticosteroids and immunomodulators may produce greater and far more serious side effects. Topical corticosteroids creams or ointments contain anti-inflammatory agents that stop the depigmentation process. When applied for extended periods of time, topical corticosteroids can cause thinning of the skin and acne. In some cases, corticosteroids may even cause skin cancer to develop. Immunomodulators modify the immune system response to prevent the melanocyte destruction; however, prolonged use may lead to photosensitivity and certain cancers.

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Corticosteroids and immunomodulators are used for small patches, but for hard-to-reach bodily places, creams and ointments are not ideal treatments. Common hard-to-treat areas where vitiligo occurs are skin folds, the scalp, and the genital area. Palms and soles are also challenging areas to affix creams and ointments to the skin surface. Excimer lasers for vitiligo allow for precision treatment for the aforementioned hard-to-treat areas.

The precise nature of excimer lasers for vitiligo allows treatment in affected areas while leaving normal pigmented skin alone. Excimer lasers have adjustable spot sizes ranging from 0.08 inches (2 mm) to 0.71 inches (18 mm), which allow the dermatologist to treat both very small and moderately large areas using the same laser. Due to the collimated and flat-top beam, the excimer laser eliminates surface scatter, improving beam uniformity and penetration. In doing so, the excimer laser provides the patient with highly-effective and precise vitiligo treatments.

Medical studies involving the excimer laser using the 308 nanometers (nm) wavelength have shown 82% of the treated patches showed repigmentation. Typically when treating vitiligo, excimer lasers operate at the proven 308 nm wavelength compared to narrow-band UVB treatment of 311 nm to 312 nm. The excimer laser has a wavelength range of 126 nm to 351 nm, largely depending on the condition being treated.

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