Living with vitiligo
An honest account
Ever wondered what it’s like living with a skin condition that causes people to stare or ask awkward questions? We’ve been chatting to freelance writer and fashion journalism student Emma Matthews, 21, who gives us a look into living with vitiligo.
Emma, you’ve had vitiligo since you were 12 years old, what was your reaction when you first discovered you had the condition?
Confusion, if anything! Neither of my parents have it, so the diagnosis was quite a surprise. Very little is known about the condition, either. Initially my doctor didn’t know what it was. I think as it primarily affected my hair at the time and hadn’t yet spread to my skin, he was a little thrown off. I ended up going to a specialist dermatologist who diagnosed me. Although she could inform me what it was, there isn’t a known cure or proven way to slow the process down.
These days do you find that people are more aware of vitiligo, with the likes of Chantelle Brown-Young bringing the condition into the public eye?
I do think it’s helping. Chantelle’s story has definitely shed light on what vitiligo is. That said, vitiligo isn’t one size fits all. Although the condition is the same (where your colour pigment in cells are being destroyed) the outcome varies from person to person. My vitiligo primarily affects my eyebrows and eyelashes, which from what I’ve seen isn’t as common. I do have white patches on my skin but as I’m fairly pale and they’re not as noticeable. So, if someone was just looking at my face it might not be able to realise it was vitiligo straight away.
Has your vitiligo ever held you back and how did you overcome this?
It hasn’t held me back, no. Although vitiligo in an autoimmune disorder, I haven’t experienced any other illnesses that go alongside it. I do think it massively affects your confidence, especially if you’re a young woman.
We loved your recent feature on how to cover vitiligo eyebrows, it sounds like there was some trial and error before you reached the perfect brows! Do you have any other tips or advice for people who have just been recently diagnosed when it comes to make-up?
Thank you! From personal experience, I’ve always used a liquid foundation that has medium coverage to conceal the white patches of skin on my face. I usually mix it with a concealer to give a more even, natural finish. As for other tips, if you plan on using fake tan or are lucky enough to be jetting off someplace sunny, buy a foundation that’s a few shades darker than your natural skin tone. I have a large white patch that’s quite noticeable on my leg. If I’m wearing a dress or skirt without tights in the summer time, occasionally I’ll blend the foundation in, before adding a coat of hairspray to set it. It’s only an easy, DIY hack and by no means anything professional, but it will last the day and does the job. Who knows, maybe that can be my next feature?
How do you think vitiligo affected your confidence growing up and how did you learn to embrace your natural self?
Massively. I don’t have time for anyone who acts like vitiligo is a life threatening illness. Especially when there are far more serious diseases and illnesses out there that affect people’s physical and mental state! That said, I completely understand why it can knock your confidence. I’m quite lucky in the sense that although my vitiligo is unusual, now I’ve learned tips and tricks with makeup it’s not that noticeable. Before then, I use to get the odd look or nasty comment. It was definitely upsetting, especially as a young, girl who was still finding herself. Whether we like it or not, appearance and image plays such a big part of your teenage years. It seems like the be all or end all and kids can be mean if you look a certain way – even if it is something as silly as having ‘half an eyebrow’. In a weird way finding how to tackle vitiligo with makeup helped. Once I learned to conceal my eyebrows, it allowed me to feel more confident about the diagnosis and myself. I wasn’t hiding it per say. Just taking control of it to the point where I was confident at covering it, if I wished to, and now feel it’s manageable even when I don’t
Have you ever connected with other people who have vitiligo? And if so has that helped you?
Weirdly, I’ve only ever met one person with the condition, who happens to be a friend of mine, Grant. It was quite a strange realisation, considering neither of us had talked about it or knew the other one had it prior!
What would you say to someone who has just found out they have vitiligo?
That’s a hard one! Obviously the severity of everyone’s vitiligo is different so the last thing I’d want to give is give advice that suits one person and is patronising to another. Over all I’d say research really helps though. Just simple things like learning more about the condition will help you come to grips with your diagnosis. Your starting point? My eyebrow article!
Disclaimer: The opinions in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the British Skin Foundation and/or its work.