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Wellness

What Is Vitiligo?

Anyone who knows me knows that I have these off-color patches of skin on my legs, hands, and arms. Many time people assume that they are from burns of some sort. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how I got burned, I'd have about sixty dollars. I would have maybe eighty dollars if I had a quarter for every time someone asked, "what's that?" If I got a penny for every time someone eyed me strangely, thinking they were being inconspicuous- too afraid (or polite?) to ask what happened to me, I'd be rich. So, I've decided to write this article to answer some questions you may have.

Is that a burn?

No, it isn't a burn. I don't know what chemicals, fire, or hot substance I would have to play with that would wound me  in order to be sporadically burned on my hands, arms, legs, etc. I have vitiligo.

What is vitiligo?

As it was explained to me when I was diagnosed a few years back, vitiligo is an autoimmune disease. What is an autoimmune disease you ask? Autoimmune diseases occur when the white blood cells that are supposed to protect the body from foreign elements to overreact and attack cells that are native to the body. Vitiligo is the result of white blood cells attacking melanin cells.

It doesn't itch or hurt- it feels just like the rest of the skin. I was told there are two types of vitiligo- sporadic and reflective. Sporadic vitiligo causes discolored spots to appear randomly anywhere on the body, but reflective vitiligo is exactly what it sounds like. If there is a melanin-less spot on the left hand, you can probably see a similar size, similar shape spot on the right hand in the same area. Little is known about the causes of autoimmune diseases. Some attribute the cause to stress while others say it can be anything from the environment to genetics.

Is it contagious?

No, it's not contagious.

Does it spread?

In most cases, vitiligo does spread.

How quickly?

Spreading varies from person to person. When I first noticed my vitiligo, it was only a half inch circle on my left arm. The melanin actually started coming back after a month or two, but soon after that the spot grew, and I noticed parts of my hands getting lighter before eventually becoming completely white. It's hard to measure spreading as well, because sometimes vitiligo can spread to places you don't look often, like the back of your leg. You may just happen to notice and wonder, "how did that get there?"

Is there treatment?

There is treatment for vitiligo. There is topical treatment for mild cases and a UV light treatment that is recommended for more widely spread cases.

Why haven't you received treatment?

My number one reason for never getting the treatment is because I like how vitiligo looks on me. I think it's pretty and I often find myself admiring the shapes the light spots form by making them into images using a pen. To me, it's fascinating how it changes, and I like watching it happen. I currently have a heart-shaped splotch on my left pinkie and it is a great joy to me. Other than that, I did try a topical treatment at first, but it's honestly a hassle. Rubbing it onto every single spot every day was more effort than I was willing to put in for something that wasn't detrimental to my health.

I never considered the UV treatment as a viable option and for good reason, I believe. Even though my dermatologist told me it was safe and I needn't worry, I still felt like it was a bad idea. Because the light spots on my skin are now easier to sunburn due to lack of melanin, it doesn't make much sense for me to sit under direct UV lights for an hour or so every other day. That sounds like a surefire way to get skin cancer. I don't want to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Don't you ever feel self-conscious?

No, not really. I mean, there are other things I'm self-conscious about, but not my vitiligo. I think of it as one of the things I like the most about me. It's like an accessory that matches every occasion.

What if you wake up and it has spread to your face?

Well, I'll brush my teeth, get dressed, and get on with my day. I don't worry too much about people looking at me strangely. I do wonder sometimes if I would ever buy the special makeup designed to cover vitiligo, so that I won't be discriminated against during job interviews, but let me be frank, I'm too lazy to do that before someone sees my face. Take me baby or leave me.

Y'all with vitiligo better slay out here. You're gorgeous. Are we clear?

Photo Credit

Tiyra is a senior at Regent University studying English with a concentration in communications. No, she does not want to be a teacher. She is a total advertising and marketing geek (she reads Adweek every morning and AdAge every month). She enjoys writing, reading, learning new things, and good music. She is a fan of Korean dramas, they're a lot of fun! If you're looking for her, you can normally find her where the free food is.
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