International Vitiligo Day is on 25 June and people across the globe who have the skin condition will be celebrating their uniqueness.
Celebrities like Winnie Harlow, Graham Norton and Leleti Khumalo all have vitiligo and have proudly spoken about living with the condition. Late popstar Michael Jackson was also diagnosed with vitiligo in the early 1980s.
According to dermatologist Dr Nyalleng Ngema, vitiligo is a common long-term condition that presents itself as “a loss of colour in the skin”.
“Often it creates a variation of colour patches or patterns on the skin from loss of pigment. It can appear on the head, on the face and in different parts of the body, including the hair. This can make the skin sensitive to sunlight,” Ngema says. “Vitiligo can often be caused by the lack of pigment in the skin and these affect the production of melanin in the skin.
“There is not yet a cure for vitiligo, but the spread of the white patterns can be controlled.”
Scandal! actor Brighton Ngoma has been outspoken about living with the skin condition and how it affects his daily life. This year he is one of the celebrities chosen by Ingram’s to participate in vitiligo awareness campaign Your Skin, Your Brave to educate South Africans about the condition.
He was in his early 20s when he started noticing his skin changing colour.
“I started noticing in my early 20s that my hands were changing colour and turning lighter,” he says.
But he didn’t panic and tried to find the problem. “I did my research and found out it was vitiligo. So I educated myself and those around me,” he says.
There are many cases where people lose out on work or are mocked because of their skin conditions, but Brighton says he has not had to endure too much discrimination because his vitiligo is only on the hands.
“I often get odd looks once people see my hands being a different colour too my face and most people don’t say anything, they just stare. But because my vitiligo is mostly on my arms and hands, it’s not that noticeable. Most of the time it’s covered, unlike other people where it shows on the face,” he says.
“I’ve been lucky enough to not have experienced any serious discrimination, so I was able to deal with it while educating myself and those around me who were curious enough to ask.”
In many communities, people with conditions like vitiligo and albinism are shunned, but Brighton wants people to understand that it is only a skin condition.
“I think albinism has far more deeply entrenched discrimination than vitiligo and this needs to stop. People need to educate themselves so we can move forward as a community,” he says.
“In some [communities] vitiligo is considered either a ‘gift or a curse’ and education is key to stop the misconceptions around both but more importantly to stop the albinism killings,” he adds.
One of Brighton’s solutions is to bring more shows to television that tackle the issue of skin, skin conditions and the misconceptions around them.
“There aren’t many movies or television shows that focus on skin conditions such as vitiligo and its causes and how it affects the individual,” he says.
“It would be great if more producers and scriptwriters would include it in their shows. Having said that, the entertainment industry is all about trends. Vitiligo is trending globally right now, as it’s been shown more in modelling campaigns. I think that’s incredible and hopefully it’s not just a fad but a celebration of being brave and reminding everyone that it’s okay to stand out,” he adds.
Brighton’s advice to young people with Vitiligo is to embrace their skin, love their uniqueness.
“I would remind those children they’re even more unique than they realise, that people will jeer and stare because they don’t understand people who are different. As they get older, and with education and understanding, they’ll realise there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them.
“For me, wearing your skin bravely means letting your inner courage shine stronger than your exterior. I believe I was given this gift so I could be a vehicle to educate people,” he says.