Vitiligo may seem to be a relatively new skin disorder that has just sprung up in the late twentieth century, however, there is some evidence that it actually dates back thousands of years. The disease is also referred to as: leukoderma and it is characterized by the skin getting chalky white patches, which are surrounded by darker borders. These patches can be few or many, depending on the spread of the skin disorder. This is caused by the skin losing it’s pigmentation or the cells that normally produce melatonin suddenly fail to produce it. The skin patches can appear over time, sometimes just localized in a small area, or alternatively they can spread to a large portion of the body. Often the white patches will have some sort of symmetry to them. For example, if you have white patches on the top of the left foot, you will most likely have similar patches on the top of the right foot. Although the skin disorder does not cause any great health concerns, pain, discomfort or threat to one’s life, it can still be a difficult disorder to deal with both aesthetically and emotionally. As one deals with covering or concealing a growing number of patches on the skin it can be disorienting, which in turn can cause identity issues, frustration and emotional anxiety. Without any skin pigmentation, the skin is also more prone to sunburn and skin cancer.
It’s likely the disease first received the most wide range attention when Michael Jackson announced that he had the skin disorder on the Oprah Show back in 1993. At the time, the public had noticed a change in his appearance-in particular his skin tone, which seemed to be lightening. For certain Michael had undergone some skin therapies to lighten his skin, but what many didn’t realize is that these changes were likely first acted on due to a large amount of patches on his skin losing their pigment or colour due to the vitiligo skin disorder rather than just a desire to have lighter skin. As will be outlined later in this article, when the skin has a large amount of patches on the skin that are losing pigment and lightening, one treatment recommendation is to lighten all the skin to even out the skin tone. This however, is a long drawn out and extreme process that is usually only recommended for extreme cases of vitiligo. Following Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 an autopsy report did confirm that Michael Jackson did suffer from the Vitiligo skin disorder.
Although Michael Jackson was likely the most famous celebrity to publicly suffer from the vitiligo skin disorder, there has been a handful of other famous individuals who have publicly claimed to suffer from this skin disorder. Some other individuals to publicly experience vitiligo include:Chantelle Brown, a Canadian model who appeared on “America’s Next Top Model” and who become somewhat of a spokes model for vitiligo. There was also Marco Antonio Rubio a former WBC Interim Middleweight Boxing Champion, and Michaela De Prince, who is a American ballet dancer with an African origin who has danced for the Dutch National Ballet. Her experience with the skin disorder was especially disheartening, as she lived in a refugee camp as a young child before she was adopted by an American family. At the refugee camp she was often referred to as the “devil’s child” for her unusual skin markings caused by vitiligo. Although this list of famous people with vitiligo are mainly from an African origin, the disease is not specifically a disease which attacks African descendents. In fact anyone can get it, although it is more common in dark eyed people then light eyed individuals and is probably the most noticeable in those with darker skin or those with an African heritage.
As mentioned above, there is also some evidence in historical texts and manuscripts that would suggest the skin disorder has been around for many centuries. Vitiligo seems to date back as early as 1500 B.C. and was found in the Ebers Papyrus of Ancient Egypt. The whitening of skin is also mentioned in the Indian texts known as Athanvaveda which dates back 1400 B.C. The Hebrew word “Zora’at” was found in the book of Leviticus in the old testament and dates back to 1280 B.C. In this book it describes a skin disorder concerning white spots. In the medical books from the Hippocrates and the Greek Era there seemed to be little differentiation between the skin disease of leprosy and vitiligo. In Arabic literature the word “alabras” was often associated with vitiligo. This same term was also used in the Koran. The term “vitiligo” itself was first used by the Roman Physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus in the classic medical text de Medicina.
The most mysterious part of this skin disorder is that there is no real actual cause for it, and there is no absolute cure either. So, although it might seem frustrating or hard to understand why one’s skin can suddenly start to lighten in patches, there are a few strong common links that might cause it, and there are plenty of treatments to help reduce the appearance of the white spots on the skin. For example, the skin disorder is somewhat genetic and often runs in families. It is also often associated with autoimmune disorders. The most common auto immune disorders that are associated with vitiligo include: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and thyroid gland malfunctions, Addison’s disease, pernicious anemia, alopecia areata(patches of hair loss) and type one diabetes. Vitiligo may also be caused by a trauma happening to the skin, oxidative stress and occasionally it can be caused by chemical agents such as catechol.
For most people the percentage of skin lightened or pigment absent skin patches is less than 1 %. This is usually treated simply with light cosmetics such as dermablend to help cosmetically cover up the lightiened patches. Sometimes for these small patches topical corticosteroids are applied to the skin to restore the pigments.
Another common treatment to help blend and transform the skin’s white patches back to normal coloured skin is to combine ultraviolet light therapy along with these cortisone creams for best results. This ultra violet light treatment can be harsh on the skin as it increases the skin’s chances for developing skin cancer. For this reason it is not practiced in all countries-United Kingdom for one does not allow the treatments. The UVB light treatments can be done at home with domestic lights or at a clinic. Usually the phototherapy sessions are done several times of a week and can take as little as three weeks to take effect if the treatment is on the face or neck and less than three years old. However, if the marks are found on the hands or legs and are more than three years old than the treatments can take much longer. Larger spots often require hospital treatment. Still, because the therapy is simple, effective and relatively inexpensive, it is the most common form of treatment for the condition.
For more extreme cases of vitiligo in which large parts of the skin are covered in white patches, the other option is to lighten and bleach the rest of the skin to match. It is possible that this is what happened with Michael Jackson’s case. This process is a much more lengthy and time consuming and can take a up to a year to complete. The products of monobenzone or hydroquinone are used in this process, but even this process is not simple and easy for the skin. Once again, once the skin is depigmentized one must be very careful to avoid sunburns and is one also becomes more susceptible to skin cancers such as melanoman.
The latest treatment for the vitiligo skin disorder that has been found successful and is probably more healthy over the long term involves the process of taking other normally functioning melanocytes from normal functioning pigmented cells , usually from the gluteus maximus and transplanting them to the areas of the body with the vitilago . So far, this has been proven to be successful for a large percentage of people who have tried this new treatment. This treatment was first used on patients in the 1990’s who had a bad response to the more traditional UVB light therapy treatments. And it might soon become the regular treatment or procedure used to treat the skin disorder known as vitiligo.
The video above was created by a group of health care professionals and their patients. If you have any questions about the video or would like to know more about vitiligo in general you can reach them at the following website: www.vitiligoworkinggroup.com