Controversial skin cream used to treat vitiligo may come to UK

The treatment carries potentially serious side effects

Ellie Muir
Tuesday 07 March 2023 11:21 GMT
(Getty Images)

A controversial new treatment for vitiligo that can restore pigment to the skin might soon be offered by the NHS if it gets approved by UK health experts.

Vitiligo is a condition that causes the skin to lose pigmentation and affects around one per cent of the UK population.

The long-term disorder, in which white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body, is caused by a lack of pigment called melanin and is thought to be an autoimmune condition.

In recent years, vitiligo has become more widely recognised thanks to celebrities such as supermodel Winnie Harlow discussing her experience with the condition. Love Island’s Tanya Manhenga also has spoken about her experience with the condition.

Harlow opened up about living with the condition to Cosmopolitan magazine last year, saying it is now her “greatest gift” but found living with it as a child “incredibly isolating”.

For people who would prefer to treat vitiligo, ruxolitinib (brand name Opzelura) is the new treatment that might be coming to the UK and has been praised for getting rid of white patches on a patient’s skin.

It is the first and only vitiligo repigmentation treatment approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, it is a controversial product due to the potentially serious side effects that come with its use. For this reason, it must be prescribed by a doctor and requires treatment monitoring.

One side effect is its impact on the body’s immune system, which might leave the person more prone to infections such as coughs and colds.

Tanya Manhenga, who appears on this year’s winter Love Island, lives with vitiligo
Tanya Manhenga, who appears on this year’s winter Love Island, lives with vitiligo (ITV)

The Opzelura brand recommends avoiding the use of the cream among patients with an “active, serious infection, including localised infections”.

“Carefully consider the benefits and risks of treatment prior to initiating Opzelura in patients with chronic or recurrent infection.”

In trials that observe the use of the cream to treat vitiligo, some participants developed acne and redness affecting the area of the skin where the treatment was applied.

The study found that it was most effective when treating nonsegmental vitiligo, where patches or blotches of depigmentation appear on both sides of the body.

At present, the price per tube is approximately $2,000 (£1,660) in the US where it is already approved for use.

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