Saturday, December 12, 2009


*Please note that this is my personal experience and opinion on bleaching and what may not have worked for me may have worked for someone else. I do not claim to know about the effects of bleaching for Vitiligo on any grand scale nor do I advocate or endorse any product that changes skin colour. In expressing my opinion however, please note that I do not condemn bleaching for those who seriously feel that it may help them with their condition, or those who have already undergone de-pigmentation*

My skin turned white completely naturally, of its own accord, without any bleaching or other treatment from the age of 12. To this day, the only dark spots on my entire body are on my face, looking more like freckles or moles than Vitiligo patches. During times of great workload or long periods spent with family, these spots may either shrink and disappear (stress causing de-pigmentation) or grow and multiply (lack of stress causing re-pigmentation). At least, this is what I believe it is.

This may seem incredibly silly, but when I see too many dark spots appearing or when they start growing to a size that is considerably larger than a ‘beauty mole’ or ‘freckle’, I start getting a little anxious and trying to find ways to stress myself out on purpose, because in my head, being stressed means staying one colour and reducing my dark spots. Ask anyone who knows me and they will attest to the fact that I am always busy and I always take on a lot more than I should, and I am a bit of an over-achiever… Try to psycho-analyse me and you will probably see that this is one of the reasons why. I often joke to my closest friends about being “the poster child for stress”. I also remember joking to my ex that he was good for me because he was “always stressing me out” and therefore stopping dark patches from appearing. What a warped way of thinking!

At some point last year, during a pretty vulnerable time, I became particularly bothered by the amount of freckles on my face that had decided to grow and multiply. Usually, I can gauge how many dark spots are on my cheeks, nose or around my lips during the year depending on the weather, and I can point them out blindfolded because I know them so well. But leading up to August of 2008, I felt like it was getting out of control and it really started to bother me.

I asked a dermatologist if there was a way that I could eliminate some of the dark spots, but not all as I had grown emotionally attached to a few of the spots that had always been there since my complete transformation (amusing as this sounds, it’s true!). These were namely one on my cheek, a tiny one on my right eyelid, one above my lip and one at the corner of my bottom lip (once mistaken for a spot of chocolate by a friend, leading to me furiously rubbing around my mouth to eliminate the mysterious chocolate patch before realizing that they had been referring to a permanent patch of pigmented skin!).

Aside from these special ‘beauty moles’, I wanted to reduce or eliminate the rest of the spots that were now beginning to take over and so I was prescribed a 14% bleaching cream called Tri-Luma, which I was meant to apply nightly with a Q-tip to each of the spots for two months. I began doing this and saw within a couple of days that the skin surrounding the spots was definitely a little lighter, therefore the spots themselves must be getting lighter also.

After a week, I noticed a slight burning whenever I applied the cream to the spots, which were looking somewhat red, but I took this as a good sign because they were no longer as dark as they had been. Within two weeks, my skin had started peeling and was raw and sore. Makeup made it look worse and yet no makeup was just as horrendous. When I applied the cream, it burned the raw skin and became painful to continue and also painful to cover with makeup. In my eyes, I looked like I had open sores all over my face and put the cream away, never to be used again. I thought that this was how bleaching creams worked – they peeled back all the layers of the skin to reveal the fresh, raw layers without pigment underneath… Then I decided that if that was what I had to go through simply to eliminate a few unwanted spots that looked like moles, it certainly was not worth it. It most certainly was not worth damaging my otherwise flawless skin because I felt uncomfortable with a few dark spots... Makeup could cover the dark spots (thank the Lord for MAC concealer), but nothing could repair my skin if it got permanently burnt or damaged by the bleaching cream.  My skin was reacting too violently to a cream that was not even supposed to be that strong.

After I stopped using the cream (at about three weeks or so), one or two of the spots disappeared completely. Most of them came back and some of them were reduced but some of them were also darker than before. I have not tried the cream since and am reluctant to do anything else because it is not worth it. I’m sure my anxiety over a few dark spots is mostly because of my own thoughts in my head, and no one actually cares about a few dark spots on my face. They simply look like moles. Furthermore, Vitiligo sufferers with patches are going through a hell of a lot more on a daily basis on their arms and legs, let alone their faces, so I decided to stop being so selfish and use makeup instead.

Today, I have a total of about twenty freckles or moles on my face and two on my shoulder. The ones on my face do not show when I apply my makeup, unless I choose to highlight them with a makeup pencil as a beauty trick. The two on my shoulder arrived shortly after my first TV appearance and I have been monitoring them closely as I find that they have been growing quite rapidly, although to be honest they are still small enough to be considered beauty marks and not even moles. Nevertheless, I am still careful to take note of any changes.

The idea that my skin may once again become patchy does scare me, but at the end of the day if that is what is meant to happen to me, then so be it. The idea of what bleaching could have done to my skin is not one I wish to consider and will never be trying again, and certainly not one that I would recommend to anyone, including those women around the world who seem to be addicted to bleaching creams and skin-lightening products.

It is not worth it. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. I would much rather have my skin as it is now, than truly destroy it forever for the sake of eliminating a few minimal patches.

Monday, December 7, 2009

De-Pigmentation, Re-pigmentation...

For most Vitiligo sufferers, the major concern when patches of lighter skin start to appear, grow and multiply is: How do I get back my original skin colour? How do I make these white patches disappear?

Undoubtedly, this was the case for me as well when my Vitiligo first started developing. Treatments are most definitely geared towards retaining and restoring the original skin colour to the patient. Of course, as I have mentioned before, in very extreme cases of Vitiligo such as my own, where more than 80% or so of the body is completely de-pigmented, the option to “bleach” the remainder of the original skin colour could be put on the table. Please note that this is not an easily attainable option and most doctors are incredibly wary of suggesting this to their patients as it is indeed irreversible but also there is a question of the psychological effects and therefore the ethical issue of choosing that path.

The automatic assumption, and very rightly so I would imagine, is that every patient wants to retain their original skin colour, because that is the way we were born and that is the way that we know ourselves and how our peers know and identify us. Everything that can be done will be done in the hopes of eliminating, or camouflaging, those pesky and devastating white patches.

After almost twenty years, my skin is now completely one colour. Granted it is not the colour I was born with, nor is it the colour I would choose had I been given the choice at the time, but it is the colour I ended up with. Over the years, I have been asked:

  • ·         What if your colour comes back?
  • ·         Can your colour come back?
  • ·         How would you feel if your colour came back?
  • ·         Do you want your colour to come back?

When I chose not to bleach the remainder of my dark patches (at some point, “dark skin with white patches” changed to “white skin with dark patches”) at the age of twelve, I did not feel mature enough or responsible enough to dictate what colour my skin should be. The thought of doing something to my skin that was irreversible was terrifying to say the least, because at that time, I knew that the possibility of the Vitiligo reversing could indeed happen. I did not want to eliminate the chance of regaining my beautiful brown skin.
That was then and this is now. I always thought that having my original skin colour would solve my problems, being able to tan would stop me getting taunted by others on the beach or in the Caribbean, everything would be fine if I turned back to the way I was.

Now, I am older and just a little bit wiser.

It took me almost two decades to get to this point. Two decades of my life spent adapting to the changes that my body was making. And two decades to finally be a person that I could live with and accept and that others could also accept for who I am. Going through those changes as a child and a teenager was hard – probably the hardest thing a teen can experience – but the truth is, at a young age, you still have that bubble of family and strong support that helps you through moments of weakness. As an older woman, one who is now trying to stand on her own two feet in the world, I don’t know if I could muster that strength from within to experience another two or more decades of my skin changing back.

I don’t think I have what it takes to be that strong again.

I don’t want to be a yoyo every twenty years of having my skin decide between completely black and completely white. It took this much to get here. It took this much to accept being at this point. I don’t think I can do it again.

So, would I like my original colour back? Yes, I would love to know what it feels like to look like I would have without my Vitiligo. But do I want my original colour to come back now? No. As strong as I may have been going through that transition, it was a strength that took a lot out of both me and my family. Looking back on it, I don’t remember how I got through it, all I know is that I did.

I am not a white woman by definition, nor do I believe that being white is better in any way, but I have adapted to make my situation work for me. If I had remained with patches, I would have adapted to make that work for me also, the way so many of you do. Either way, I would adapt. But I don’t think I would have the strength to do it again. When one of my “freckles” or “beauty moles”, as I like to call them, starts to grow, or a new one appears, I get very anxious. I would never try to bleach them (knowing what bleaching entails following a particular incident in 2008), but I do get scared that it might be happening all over again. The irony of course being that it is still happening now because I never stopped being a Vitiligo sufferer! I still have Vitiligo, which people tend to forget!

And this is why I have so much respect and admiration for those of you who still go through having your patches in today’s world and holding your head high. I don’t know if I could. I remember that at some point I did it, I must have done to reach this day, but I doubt whether I could find that inner strength once again for the reversal. It’s taking enough inner strength to live with a completely different skin colour that isn’t even my own…

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Scars That We Bear...

I have always been fascinated by scars. Strange as this may sound, I was always convinced that anyone with an impressive-looking scar must therefore have an impressive story to tell about how they got it. I always felt that people with scars had LIVED, they had taken risks and gone on wild adventures and lived to tell the tale. Perhaps it was because my own skin did not scar so easily that I was fascinated by this phenomenon.  The very few scars that my skin has managed to bear are, in a very weird way, badges of pride for me because I envy people with really impressive scars and my own scars are reminders of important things that happened in my life.

My god sister came as a blessing and a miracle during my teenage years. We were unsure she would survive to full term and though she was born prematurely, she was indeed a little fighter. As a result of her early arrival, she was placed in an incubator where subsequently a number of medical mistakes caused her to lose her vision in one eye, as well as a drip being left in her arm for too long causing an intravenous burn, creating a considerable scar from her left wrist to her elbow. Nevertheless, she pulled through and I was so proud to be her god sister that I carried her picture on my folder at school and told everyone about the adorable little baby adorning the cover.

Some years ago, when she was at the tender age of four or five, when we were sitting in the car on our way to the movies, I commented that the scar on her arm was looking as if it was fading or getting smaller. She then replied:

“Yes, that’s my scar. I don’t like it because it makes me ugly.”

It broke my heart to hear such a young child say something so awful about themselves that I couldn’t think of what to say. Thinking of how that scar symbolized her fight to survive, in the end I settled for:

“Don’t say that, scars are beautiful! Your scar means that you have a really interesting story to tell everybody when they ask you what it is! I’m sure there’s no one in your class who has a scar like yours or a story like yours… Your scar makes you so special and it’s there to remind you of how special you are…”

She looked at me with her big, innocent eyes and asked me:

“Well, if you like scars so much and they are so special, where’s your scar?”

The question caught me off guard and got me thinking. Where was my scar? Then it dawned on me that my skin was my scar and my skin was my story. Maybe to the rest of the world they could not see a scar in the traditional sense, but the visible part that the world encountered upon meeting me was not as it originally had been. And if I was trying to convince this young, impressionable child that her scar was one of the most beautiful things about her, then I should accept that my scar was one of the most beautiful things about me.

And it is true. For those of us whose skin is changing, or is different to how it was when we were born, we have to see these scars as stories to share with the world about how special we truly are and what we have survived. Scars are amazing, they set us apart from each other and show that we are still human – we still cut, we still bleed, we still hurt… and we still heal. And when we heal, we share our story which can help someone else to heal or feel better about their own scars. Telling my god sister how beautiful both she and her scar were that day helped me to accept my own in some small way. < Having a scar means that you lived to tell the tale. Having a scar means that you survived the fall, you survived the ordeal and you survived the injury that led to you having that scar in the first place. Having a scar to talk about means that you are still alive to talk about it. And for that, scars are beautiful…

Happy birthday to my miracle god sister… Without even knowing it, you opened my eyes with a few simple words.