When I was seven I went to Cyprus on a family holiday. Whilst on this holiday I burnt my face but when the burn was gone I was left with something else.
Looking at these photos you may think I have some sort of birthmark but I actually have vitiligo, a common yet widely unknown skin condition which affects the pigmentation in skin and hair. When I returned from my holiday, a white mark had appeared on my forehead and stayed for a few years. Then the mark faded but I was left with white hairs on my left eye’s eyelashes and eyebrow.
The doctor couldn’t come to a conclusion and referred me to a hospital skin specialist who made the diagnosis of vitiligo. It didn’t bother me because I was a tomboy and really didn’t care how I looked. Contrary to what you may think, I was never bullied because of it. Occasionally someone would ask me what it was and there was one time, whilst on a guide camping trip, that a girl told everyone I had a contagious disease (some believed her) but apart from that I’ve never had any negative comments. Then when I turned 12 I suddenly dropped the tomboy act and started wearing make up. Unfortunately, mascara wasn’t my strong point so I would have to go to a beautician to get them tinted professionally. Eventually, I had to give this up as the dye stung my eyes.
At 13 I taught myself how to use mascara but this became a problem at school where girls with make up on were regularly rounded up and handed cleansing wipes. I remember trying to explain that I wore it to hide my vitiligo but I wasn’t believed. I put this down to a lack of awareness of vitiligo.
The reason I’m writing this post is because I’m actually shocked at how little people know about this fairly common condition. In a society where appearance is often everything I can’t imagine how hard it is for people with more severe forms. One of the most famous examples of this being Michael Jackson, yet rumours widely circulated as to why he looked the way he did. How can someone be black and then turn white? That’s impossible – right?
This always got to me a little and although I have a very mild form of vitiligo, there really isn’t enough awareness of vitiligo out there.
Here’s a little fact file I created about vitiligo. You can find out more information at The Vitiligo Society
What is Vitiligo?
Vitiligo is a skin condition where there is a loss of pigment from the skin or hair often resulting in irregular white patches. Not to be confused with Albinism.
The real cause is actually unknown but it could be genetic, environmental or a mixture of both. 1 in every 200 is affected and 40% of these people have an affected relative.
Other than visible symptoms there are no other symptoms of vitiligo. There is no pain or inflammation and skin feels like regular skin. Edges are often well-defined but irregular and can appear gradually or suddenly.
There are creams and medical procedures such a phototherapy available, however, there is no cure. Vitiligo can continue to appear all over the body and this also makes you highly susceptible to sun damage and even skin cancer. It is an unpredictable condition and in some cases, such as mine, the skin can re-pigment itself. All I can do now is prevent it coming back. When bug-eyed sunglasses came into fashion it was great news for me as I had to wear these anyway to cover the parts of my eye already affected.
It is NOT contagious at all despite what the girl at Guides said. It can be hereditary and set off with the right trigger (AKA severe sunburn) but there are cases of people developing vitiligo after suffering emotional trauma as well.