What Is Vitiligo?
By Awake! writer in South Africa
◼ Sometimes Sibongile speaks humorously of her skin condition. She says with a smile, “I was born black, became white, and now I’m just confused.” She has vitiligo.
Vitiligo, also called leukoderma, is triggered by the loss of pigment-producing cells in the skin. This results in the formation of white spots and patches on the skin. With some patients the condition never progresses beyond the appearance of one patch. With others, however, it spreads over the body quickly. Still others may suffer a slower form of vitiligo that continues to spread over many years. Vitiligo is neither physically painful nor contagious.
Not all cases of vitiligo may be as obvious as Sibongile’s because it is most noticeable on dark-skinned people. But there are many people afflicted to one degree or another. Statistics show that between 1 and 2 percent of the population is affected. Vitiligo knows no racial boundaries and affects men and women equally. Its cause is still unknown.
While there is no sure cure for vitiligo, there are many ways of dealing with it. For instance, in light-skinned patients, the condition is more evident when the unaffected skin is suntanned. Hence, avoiding exposure to the sun can make the condition less noticeable. With darker-skinned people, special cosmetics can help disguise the contrasts in skin color. Some patients have responded well to a process known as repigmentation. This treatment involves many months of medication and the use of special ultraviolet equipment. In some cases this treatment has caused normal color to return to parts of the afflicted skin. Other patients choose depigmentation. The goal of this treatment is to even out the skin tone by destroying the remaining pigment-producing cells with the use of medication.
Vitiligo can cause emotional distress to those afflicted, especially when it spreads to the face. “Recently,” explains Sibongile, “two children looked at me and ran away screaming. Others are hesitant to speak with me, thinking that I may have a contagious disease or that I have been cursed. If I could get one point across to others, it would be that they do not have to be afraid of people with this condition. They cannot catch vitiligo by touch or through the air.”
Sibongile does not allow her condition to deter her from the Bible teaching work she loves so much as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This entails visiting people in their homes and speaking with them face-to-face. She says: “I have come to accept my appearance. I feel more comfortable being just as I am, and I look forward to the time when my birth color will be completely restored to me in the earthly Paradise promised by Jehovah God.”—Revelation 21:3-5.
[Picture on page 22]
In 1967, before the affliction