After someone famous dies, we often become more interested in the diseases they had which when they were alive--we paid little attention. Michael Jackson revealed that he had lupus and vitiligo many years ago, but the news was not played up to the public.
The condition of his skin was often reported on but not in a way that helped any of us understand what he or others with this condition might be going through.
Vitiligo is a skin condition where the cells that make skin color, the melanocytes, are destroyed so that white patches appear. It frequently occurs on hands, faces and neck areas. Vitiligo may occur in conjunction with other autoimmune disease like lupus and appears to have a genetic disposition as it can run in families.
Medical treatments for vitiligo include:
1. Topical steroids: Creams containing cortisone, similar to the anti-inflammatory hormone produced in the body, may need to be applied for months before results can be seen. Cortisone creams are not as effective as PUVA (see below) but are the safest drugs to use so are appropriate for children.
2. PUVA: Is thought to be the most effective treatment for vitiligo but is time consuming. A drug called psoralen is spread on the depigmented area or taken orally before exposing the area to UVA light. Treatments are given 2 or 3 times a week in a doctor’s office. Sunburn is the greatest risk after these exposures so sunscreen must always be worn. Oral psoralen phototherapy is not recommended for children under 10. (if you have a history of lupus like Michael Jackson was reported to have, PUVA therapy is also not recommended.)
3. Depigmentation: For people who have vitiglio on over 50% of their body, depigmentation may be considered. Patients apply a hydroquinone cream twice a day to the pigmented areas until it matches the whitened areas of their skin. The result is usually permanent and the person will be exceptionally sensitive to the sun and always require sunscreen for protection.
Surgical treatments for vitiligo are only considered if medical therapy is unsuccessful. People with white skin who have vitiglio have less noticeable patches but it can be very stressful and emotionally difficult for those who have dark skin.
An African American newscaster named Lee Thomas has been trying to educate people about what he and the 65 million other people in the world with vitiligo go through in his memoir “Turning White: A Memoir of Change." Larry King interviewed Lee Thomas who openly revealed how he feared his professional life of news casting was over when he developed vitiligo.
He told King that he absolutely related to Michael Jackson’s angst and decision to wear a white glove on his hand. Lee Thomas also first developed lack of pigmented areas on his left hand. He began wearing a black glove regardless of weather and especially when on the air, so that no one would notice the white splotches.
Bravely, Lee Thomas showed the television audience what he looks like before putting on his facial make up and then showed how he expertly applies and blends the colored make up so that he appears like any other black man in front of the TV camera. He writes on his website, “Even people who have known me for years avoid eye contact when they see my face without makeup for the first time,”
Lee Thomas’s website is: www.turningwhite.com
To view the youtube clip go to: www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtHW7ptF76c
We will never know if Michael Jackson “bleached” his skin to even out his vitiglio or not. I do know that we all are extremely sensitive to changes in our face, more so than anywhere else on our body. The world can be a cruel place, especially if you are a public figure like Michael Jackson was, and people no longer see the person you are inside or are willing to look beyond the shell of your skin.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele can be read at http://www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles