Today Is World Vitiligo Day—Here’s One Woman’s Personal Story About the Skin Condition

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When my cousin Joelle was just 4 years old, my aunt noticed a spot on her back. Since then, it has spread to her entire body, and she’s been formally diagnosed with vitiligo. “I didn’t accept or love the skin I was in for years,” she writes in the caption on her Instagram post below, in honor of World Vitiligo Day. I felt compelled to share her post for anyone else out there with this condition who may be suffering—it affects 1 percent of the world’s population—to raise awareness and say, you are beautiful.

Canadian supermodel Winnie Harlow, who also has vitiligo, has been an impactful role model for young girls, but for those who aren’t cut out to or don’t aspire to become supermodels, it’s important to see images of other women, too.

Barbie even launched a new doll with vitiligo this year, which is an incredible and inclusive move for the brand. A statement from Barbie manufacturer Mattel said that a prototype of the vitiligo doll debuted on Barbie’s Instagram feed last year, and became its most “liked” post ever.

To set the record straight, vitiligo is not contagious or life-threatening, and according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), it remains a mystery as to what causes this loss of pigment cells (melanocytes) in the skin, resulting in light patches. It’s also not the same for everyone who is affected. Some people only have a few patches, while others have far more—even the eyes and inside of the mouth can lose some of their color. Some people express itching and/or pain associated with the condition, but for most, there are no additional symptoms.

“There are many treatments available including topical steroids, topical anti-inflammatory drugs, phototherapy, etc. that can help improve the pigment in vitiligo,” says Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew J. Elias. “On World Vitiligo Day, it’s exciting to also see many new treatments for vitiligo becoming available, such as oral and topical JAK inhibitors, biologics and more that hopefully will be able to make an even more profound impact on the condition, and repigment these patches for patients.” Click here for more information on treatment options from the AAD and board-certified dermatologists.

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