Vitiligo Treatments

Vitiligo Treatments

Vitiligo is a common autoimmune disorder that causes white patches to form in the skin. Emerging treatments have provided hope for vitiligo patients. Westside Dermatology provides specialist treatment of vitiligo with a dedicated Brisbane clinic and re-colouring program.

Our combination of photo-therapy with anti-inflammatory creams can help up to 80% of patients regain their pigmentation. Treatments are simple, safe, and if eligible are covered under Medicare.


  • Vitiligo is an autoimmune skin disorder affecting 1%-2% of the population and presents as white patches on the skin.
  • The majority of vitiligo patients are in good health, however a minority may also have other autoimmune related conditions such as thyroid disease and diabetes.
  • Treatments are successful in majority of cases especially if treated early.
  • Narrowband Photo-therapy is a safe and effective treatment for vitiligo.
  • Westside Dermatology’s 20-week vitiligo re-pigmentation program consists of anti-inflammatory creams and a series of photo-therapy sessions
  • Our success rate for re-pigmentation is up to 80%.
  • Photo-therapy sessions are covered under Medicare for eligible patient, with no out of pocket expense to vitiligo patients.
  • Specialists at Westside Dermatology treats vitiligo in all ages, including children and adults

Vitiligo is an auto immune condition that affects the pigment producing cells of the skin known as melanocytes. In vitiligo these cells are destroyed by the body’s own immune system, and hence no pigment is produced in the areas affected.

Vitiligo presents are progressive white patches on the skin with sharp margins. The common sites affected are the face, in particular around the eyes/eyelids and the mouth. Acral sites (such as the fingers/hands and feet) are commonly involved. If vitiligo occurs in the scalp; a condition known as poliosis (white hairs) may occur.

In the majority of cases the diagnosis of vitiligo is straight forward, and no tests are required. If the pattern is unusual, your dermatologist may elect to undertake a biopsy to confirm the findings. As this disorder is related to other autoimmune conditions, we may elect to order blood tests if they have not been performed prior to the referral process.

The course of vitiligo is highly variable. The condition may remain static or stable, or the condition may spread over time.  In some cases white patches can spontaneously re-colour, particularly in children, although it is rare for the disease to resolve completely without treatment.

Our Vitiligo Skin Re-colouring Program has a success rate of 80% for the treatment of vitiligo.

This 20-week program is designed to kick start skin pigmentation in white patches of vitiligo. There are two essential components to this program-

  1. Anti-inflammatory prescription creams. Our Dermatologists will tailor a combination of anti-inflammatory creams, as well as Vitamin D creams to apply on your white patches. In most cases we will cycle application of various creams to area of vitiligo. Most creams cost between $20-$60 and can be purchased in major pharmacies; there may be compounded products that are required and advice can be given on compounding pharmacies.
  2. Phototherapy sessions. 2-3 sessions are required per week. Sessions are covered under Medicare for eligible patients. Phototherapy uses a metered and precise dose of ultraviolet B light to help wake up the dormant pigment cells in your skin.

The majority of vitiligo patients will get an improvement on this skin re-colouring program.

More on Westside Dermatology Re-Colouring Program

A specialist Dermatologist is the best person to assess and manage vitiligo. It is important to establish a diagnosis, search for any associated autoimmune conditions and discuss prognosis and treatments; including the success rate of various treatments in relation to the patient’s pattern of vitiligo.

The use of phototherapy combined with creams will give the highest success rate for the treatment of vitiligo.

As an guide the following options are available:

No treatment

This is an option if the patient has very fair skin. Strict sun protection is important with at least SPF30+ sunscreens applied daily and reapplied as directed, protective clothing and sun avoidance.

Camouflage

This is achieved with make-up and topical dyes including self tanning lotions. We recommend Dermablend as the make up of choice for Vitiligo patients

Active Re-pigmentation

In order to re-pigment the skin, new pigment cells must be produced from existing ones.  These pigment cells come from the base of hair follicles, or from the edges of the white patches.

Creams treatment for vitiligo includes topical corticosteroids, Vitamin D creams and Calcinurin inhibitiors. Although not completely understood, steroids may be helpful in repigmenting the skin particularly if started early in the condition and where only a few patches or spots need to be treated. They are often used to halt the spread of vitiligo.

Patients must apply the cream or ointment to the white patches on their skin for at least 3 months before seeing any results. It is the simplest and safest treatment but not as effective as some others. This treatment must be carefully monitored by a specialist Dermatologist as steroids can thin and damage the skin if not carefully monitored. Your treating Dermatologist will closely monitor the patient for side effects such as skin thinning and skin striae (stretch marks); because of these side effects, steroid creams and ointments should not be used for extended periods of time. Your Dermatologist may combine Vitamin D creams with new calcineurin inhibitors as part of your skin re-colouring program.

ReCell®

ReCell® is an exciting new technology which is a stand-alone autologous cell harvesting device which utilizes the patient’s own skin cells to regenerate pigmentation.  This procedure starts noticing results within 2 months however full results are noted after 12 months.

Over the past 5 years the use of narrowband ultraviolent B (UVB) photo-therapy has gained popularity as the treatment of choice for vitiligo. Narrowband phototherapy or nUVB uses a specific UVB wavelength which stimulates the cells in the skin to produce pigment. Initial exposure times to the light are short in duration however the exposure time increases as the treatment progresses. The amount of UVB exposure is delivered by a precise photo-therapy unit. Treatment takes on average 30seconds to 3 minutes seconds to perform.

Photo-thearpy forms an essential part of our Vitiligo Re-Rigmentation program. If elgible all phototherapy sessions are bulk billed through Medicare.

More on Narrowband Phototherapy for Vitiligo

On average at least 30 -50 treatments are needed before improvement is seen. It is required to attend at least two to three treatments a week. The areas of vitiligo are photographed prior to treatment and the patient’s progress is frequently monitored throughout the treatment process. Photo-therapy can NOT be used in patient’s with a personal or family history of melanoma and is NOT recommended for children under the age of 8.

In general 60-80% of patients respond well to photo-therapy. Patches on the trunk, upper limbs and face respond best; whilst areas on the hands and feet are more resistant to treatment. Long standing vitiligo may also be more resistant to treatment.

If you can see coloured hairs within your white skin patches of vitiligo, chances are you will get your skin colour back!

More on Westside Dermatology’s Vitiligo Re-Rigmentation Program

Specialists have used lasers to treat vitiligo for the past decade, however results are not as predictable as photo-therapy. There are two types of lasers primarily used to re-colour white patches of skin seen in vitiligo; fractionated lasers and 308nm Eximer Lasers.

Fractionated laser treatment of vitiligo is a re-pigmentation program pioneered by dermatologists in Harvard University. Westside Dermatologists Dr Davin Lim and Dr Shobhan Manoharan have conducted several trials on the use of fractionated laser resurfacing over the past 4 years, and the following conclusions can be reached:

  • Fractional lasers abate or destroy a fraction of the skin, each laser beam vaporizes a section of skin the width of a hair shaft, penetrating only one fifth of a millimeter deep. Fractionation is only conducted in the areas of vitiligo. It is thought that destruction of abnormal cells (vitiligo prone cell are not prone to normal stimuli that results in pigment formation), allows normal cells to regenerate from the base of the hair follicle, or from adjacent areas.  Essentially abnormal vitiligo prone cells are destroyed; only to be replaced by normal cells surrounding vitiligo areas or from the hair follicle within vitiligo areas.
  • Often 3-5 treatments are needed for re-pigmentation. Treatments are spaced 2-4 weeks apart. The heal time after each treatment is approximately 2- 5 days.
  • Fractionated laser treatments can work in 10%-20% of vitiligo cases. Photo-therapy using Westside Dermatology’s Vitiligo Skin Re-Pigmenting Program is more effective, safer, and more cost effective. We never recommend laser treatment before vitiligo photo-therapy.
  • Fractionated lasers for vitiligo is a last resort treatment. Test patches will need to be conducted prior to resurfacing. (Cost of test patch- $250; and is not covered by Medicare)
  • Fractionated lasers cost for treating vitiligo ranges between $650-$990 per treatment, and is not covered by Medicare. Currently the only Medicare funded Vitiligo treatment is photo-therapy sessions which are Bulk Billed.

308 nm Eximer lasers have gained experimental interest in the treatment of vitiligo. Westside Dermatology unfortunately doesn’t have a 308nm Eximer laser.

ReCell® is the latest technology changing the way that stable Vitiligo can be treated.  It is a stand alone, autologous device which utilises the patient’s own harvested pigmented skin to be applied to the Vitiligo affected skin.

A small sample of healthy skin is taken from the patient, which is then placed into the ReCell® device creating it into a suspension.  The Vitiligo skin is then prepared using a laser to remove all dead and unwanted skin cells allowing the ReCell® suspension to be sprayed topically onto the skin.   This suspension contains all the healthy skin cells required to re-pigment the Vitiligo skin; keratinocytes, fibroblasts and melanocytes.

Immediately the skin cells sprayed onto the skin begin to multiply and form a new layer of skin within 5-7 days.  The skin must be protected during this phase with a dressing to ensure that skin cells have time to adhere to the skin.  The skin will heal within 7-10 days however re-pigmentation will continue to improve over a couple of months.

De-Pigmentation Treatment

In patients with extensive vitiligo involving more than 80% of the body, monobenzyl ether or hydroquinone maybe considered to de-pigment normal skin cells. This process may take six months to two years to achieve.  Strict sun protection is required after de-pigmentation.  This process is NOT carried out at Westside Dermatology, however specialist supervision can be carried out in public hospitals.

Natural remedies, nutrition and vitiligo

Scientific publications regarding diet and natural remedies in the treatment of vitiligo are limited. A paper published in 2003 showed promising results in slowly progressive vitiligo treated with ginkgo biloba.  For an abstract of this paper click here.

More information on diet and vitiligo.

The initial step of treatment is a firm diagnosis of this condition. The next step is to exclude any associated auto-immune conditions that maybe associated with this condition; including a thyroid test, diabetes test and to check levels of Vitamin B12.  Most General Practitioners can perform these simple, but reassuring tests.

Our Vitiligo specialists have a success rate of 60-80% using our Vitiligo re-pigmentation program, however patients must be motivated to undertake this 20 –week program. If narrowband photo-therapy is considered patients must be committed to undergo treatments at least twice at our clinic. For eligible patients this 20-week program is bulk billed under Medicare.

More on Westside Dermatology Skin Re-Pigmentation Program 

Specialist consultation Please contact us for pricing.
Photo-therapy sessions bulk billed for eligible patients
Cost of prescription creams $20-$60
Skin Re-Pigmentation Program
(20-week photo-therapy course)
Please contact us for pricing.

 

A Medicare rebate is available for eligible patients, a valid referral from your General Practitioner is required.

Fractionated laser treatments for re-pigmentation are NOT covered under Medicare

Call us directly on (07)38713437 to make an appointment for Vitiligo treatments.  Consultation slots are readily available during the week, and on Saturday mornings. Photo-therapy can be commenced on the day of the consultation.

A referral from a GP will enable you to claim a percentage of the consultation. Dr Davin Lim and Dr Shobhan Manoharan manage the Vitiligo Clinic at Westside Dermatology.

Vitiligo can be highly variable in extent and variable in response to treatments. In the past decade several new treatment have emerged for the treatment of this once untreatable condition.  With a combination of narrowband photo-therapy, and topical treatments, success rates are in the order of 60%- 80% can be seen.

Our vitiligo skin re-pigmentation program is designed as a 20-week trial of two of the most powerful methods to fight vitiligo and kick start the re-pigmenting process. Patients are usually commenced on a combination of anti-inflammatory creams and Vitamin D, as well as narrowband photo-therapy. The majority of patients will notice re-pigmentation within a few weeks of therapy. Areas such as the face and neck seem to respond much better compared to extremities.

Contrary to popular belief, vitiligo can often respond nicely to a tailored treatment program.