What Is Vitiligo?

What is Vitiligo? What are the symptoms, what causes this skin altering disease? Here you will get a little insight on what the skin condition is, and how it affects plenty of people around the world.

I was very apprehensive over writing a small article about the disease. I didn’t want to write this massive rant, trying to convince visitors that Michael Jackson indeed had vitiligo. There will be no convincing, nor pleading– Michael Jackson had the disease, there’s no doubts about that. But I wanted to go a little further, instead of telling you he had the condition, I wanted to know the struggles of the disease itself.



Vitiligo is a chronic disease that causes portions of the skin to lose it’s pigmentation, eventually resulting in color blotches on the surface. The rate of skin transformation once diagnosed is unpredictable, and can affect any part of the body (including face, arms, eyes, hair, legs, hands, etc).

So why does this disease cause pigmentation changes you ask? The color change is mostly caused by the melanin-forming cells dying, and once they are unable to function– that color change begins to occur. (Moni)

Research suggests vitiligo may arise from autoimmune, genetic, oxidative stress, neural, or viral causes. Vitiligo is typically classified into two main categories: segmental and non-segmental vitiligo. (Wiki)

The main sign of vitiligo is color (pigment) loss that produces light or white patches on your skin. Usually, the discoloration first shows on sun-exposed areas, such as the hands, feet, arms, face and lips

Vitiligo signs include:

  • Skin discoloration
  • Premature whitening or graying of the hair on your scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows or beard (usually before age 35)
  • Loss of color in the tissues that line the inside of your mouth and nose (mucous membranes)
  • Loss of or change in color of the inner layer of the eyeball (retina)
  • Discolored patches around the armpits, navel, genitals and rectum

Vitiligo can start at any age, but most often appears before age 20.

Depending on the type of vitiligo you have, the discolored patches may cover:

  • Many parts of your body. With this most common type, called generalized vitiligo, the discolored patches often progress similarly on corresponding body parts (symmetrically).
  • Only one side or part of your body. This type, called segmental vitiligo, tends to occur at a younger age, progress for a year or two, then stop.
  • One or only a few areas of your body. This type is called localized (focal) vitiligo.

It’s difficult to predict how your disease will progress. Sometimes the patches stop forming without treatment. In most cases, pigment loss spreads and eventually involves most of your skin. Rarely, the skin gets its color back.

People with vitiligo may be at increased risk of:

  • Social or psychological distress
  • Sunburn and skin cancer
  • Eye problems, such as inflammation of the iris (iritis)
  • Hearing loss
  • Side effects due to treatment, such as dry skin and itching. (Mayo Clinic)

Some Treatments Are:

Creams that control inflammation. A topical corticosteroid may help return color to (repigment) your skin, particularly if you start using it early in the disease. You may not see a change in your skin’s color for several months.

This type of cream is effective and easy to use. But it can cause side effects, such as skin thinning or the appearance of streaks or lines on your skin.

Milder forms of the drug may be prescribed for children and for people who have large areas of discolored skin.

Removing the remaining color (depigmentation). This therapy may be an option if your vitiligo is widespread and other treatments haven’t worked. A medication with monobenzone is applied to unaffected areas of skin. This gradually lightens it so that it blends with the discolored areas. The therapy is done twice a day for nine months or longer. You’ll need to avoid skin-to-skin contact with other people for at least two hours after you’ve applied the drug, so you don’t transfer it to them.

Side effects can include redness, swelling, itching and dry skin. Depigmentation is permanent, and you’ll always be extremely sensitive to sunlight. (Mayo Clinic)


Skin Discoloration

So now that we know what vitiligo is, lets take it a step further and look more into Michael’s case, and why he did some of the things he did. I believe he suffered from generalized vitiligo, it was obviously a drastic skin change over the years– and took up his entire body overall. As stated above, the disease can become prominent at any age, but usually starts to appear before the age of twenty. I believe Michael started suffering from the disease at a very early age, and its even been revealed that it runs in his family (possibly accurate, this disease runs in family blood). But vintiligo was not the only skin issues that Michael suffered from as a teen, he also suffered from acne– not minor, but severe cystic.


Psychological Factor

So why didn’t Michael tell us about any of this stuff? Honestly that’s a great question to ask, but truthfully I don’t believe he owed us an explanation. Michael spoke to us through his music, he was a great revolutionary, and I don’t think he felt completely comfortable about telling the world about his disease. It wasn’t until a 1993 Oprah Winfrey interview telecast live around the world, that he finally answered the concerning questions as to why his skin was progressively becoming lighter.

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Oprah : Okay, then let’s go to the thing that is most discussed about you, that is the color of your skin is most obviously different than when you were younger, and so I think it has caused a great deal of speculation and controversy as to what you have done or are doing, are you bleaching your skin and is your skin lighter because you don’t like being black?

Michael : Number one, as I know of, there is no such thing as skin bleaching, I have never seen it, I don’t know what it is.

Oprah : Well they used to have those products, I remember growing up always hearing always use bleach and glow, but you have to have about 300,000 gallons.

Michael : Okay, but number one, this is the situation. I have a skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of the skin, it’s something that I cannot help. Okay. But when people make up stories that I don’t want to be who I am it hurts me.

Oprah : So it is…

Michael : It’s a problem for me that I can’t control, but what about all the millions of people who sits out in the sun, to become darker, to become other than what they are, no one says nothing about that.

Oprah : So when did this start, when did your … when did the color of your skin start to change?

Michael : Oh boy, I don’t … sometime after Thriller, around Off the Wall, Thriller, around sometime then.

Oprah : But what did you think?

Michael : It’s in my family, my father said it’s on his side. I can’t control it, I don’t understand, I mean, it makes me very sad. I don’t want to go into my medical history because that is private, but that’s the situation here.

Oprah : So okay, I just want to get this straight, you are not taking anything to change the color of your skin …

Michael : Oh, God no, we tried to control it and using make-up evens it out because it makes blotches on my skin, I have to even out my skin. But you know what’s funny, why is that so important? That’s not important to me. I’m a great fan of art, I love Michelangelo, if I had the chance to talk to him or read about him I would want to know what inspired him to become who he is, the anatomy of his craftsmanship, not about who he went out with last night … what’ wrong with … I mean that’s what is important to me. (Transcript Provided By: MjsHouse)

I’ve watched this interview over and over again, and honestly I think Oprah took Michael on a wild roller coaster ride. Of course, the promotional angle of a live ‘anything goes’ interview with Michael Jackson will attract viewers, but they was she hit him randomly was super weak. It wasn’t until then, that the entire world got answers to the questions that they so desperately wanted to know. Again why do you think nothing was said prior to this interview? I believe it was the whole psychological factor of it all. Here is a man, a very famous man that happens to be adored by people all over the world. Already a shy guy, timid, kind hearted, and reserved. He finds out he has this life altering (physically) disease, and what does he do with it? That’s right ladies and gentlemen, cover it up (make up, clothing). Why? Because sometimes people can be judgmental, cruel, and thrive on pointing out flaws.




For example, Stevie Nicks recalled, in a Rolling Stone interview: “I remember before [we performed at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration], Michael sent somebody to find out if I had any foundation make-up he could borrow. I was using some light Chanel foundation at that time, and Michael sent back a note to say, thanks, but the foundation wasn’t quite light enough for him.

The Almighty Umbrella

Corresponding with the above judgmental comments, in later years people made so much fun at Michael walking around with an umbrella. People didn’t understand it, and they deemed it as strange. The disease caused his skin to be extremely sensitive to the sun, I’m sure if he went out unprotected it would result in painful sunburn. He also had other alternatives to protecting his skin from the harsh rays of the sun.




The Treatments

Above I highlighted two treatments that I believe Michael was more prominent in doing, that is the treatment of topical creams, and complete depigmentation. So I believe Michael “bleached” his skin? No. But I do believe he went through careful treatments to make sure the tone of his skin was even. If he was fighting against segmental vitiligo, then it only made sense to even the problem out versus covering the problem. He couldn’t spend years applying a darker shade of makeup to his already lighter skin complexion, it would cause an uproar of media attention that I’m sure he didn’t want.

That’s when the idea of hydroquinone, and benoquin come to play. Both are topical skin creams one over the counter ( hydroquinone) that mildly even out ones skin tone. Again, I don’t believe Michael wanted to bleach his skin, he just wanted to even out the dark blotches with his lighter skin color.


Final Quotes

The autopsy confirmed what Jackson told people who questioned why his skin tone became lighter in the 1980s. Jackson had “vitiligo, a skin pigmentation disease,” Rogers said. “So, some areas of the skin appear light and others appear dark.”

More will be added once I get the time guys! Thanks for reading!


Vitiligo. (n.d.). Retrieved April 29, 2015, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vitiligo/basics/treatment/con-20032007