It’s been over 4 years since my natural skin colour started to return (thanks to a nutritional approach that I stumbled on more or less by accident) and, even now, new pigment is continuing to appear.
Since 2010, virtually all of my previously white patches have filled in with wave upon wave of freckles, which have joined up and gradually smoothed out into my original skin tone. A few areas are still quite freckled and mottled but the depth of skin tone is continuing to increase and even out year on year, particularly in the summer months when it’s sunny - which, happily has been the case in the UK this year.
The only remaining areas that don't look fully pigmented are my hands and feet, which – whilst they have developed quite a few freckles – have remained very pale and patchy. Hand and feet are notoriously slow to respond to any vitiligo treatments and most doctors will tell you that they very rarely repigment at all. With this in mind, I had more or less begun to think - after 4 years - that maybe the pigment in these areas really was dead and I would have to accept that these would be the only parts of my body that would not achieve full repigmentation. However, much to my delight, I have seen a lot of new freckles appearing this summer (see photos).
So, it just goes to show that it really pays to be patient, especially when it comes to natural treatments. Vitiligo generally develops gradually over an extended period of time (mine took the best part of 50 years to get to the point where it covered about 80% of my body) so it’s not altogether surprising that recovery takes time too.
It was about this time 4 years ago that I first tried a particular couple of #nutritionalsupplements in the not-very-confident hope that they might help my #vitiligo – even though nothing else in 50 years ever had helped. I came across them in the product range of one of the suppliers I was using at the time for my work as an image consultant. I had resigned myself a long time before this to the probability that I would never see any improvement in my widespread vitiligo and that I would not live to see a cure. (Of course, there is still no official cure – but then, I’m not dead yet either!) But, since I was able to buy the supplements at wholesale, I thought “it’s got to be worth a try – what have I got to lose”.
Neither supplement was advertised as being designed for vitiligo. But, on reading up on their ingredients, I noticed that a lot of them were nutrients that kept cropping up in the clinical and anecdotal vitiligo treatment literature on the internet. This is what prompted me to give them a go.
The first supplement (called Boost) was actually advertised as promoting a richer, longer-lasting tan when sunbathing. Of course I knew that my white patches (which by that point in my life covered about 80% of my body) never tanned. They just went pink and then back to white again. But, once I started to think about it, it occurred to me that the reason I had developed vitiligo in the first place might just be that, for some reason, my body lacked some of the nutrients necessary for producing #pigment.
The other supplement (called Five a Day+) was a blend of 21 green “superfoods” designed to promote general good health and vitality. I didn’t have any particular reason for thinking that this might bring back my lost pigment. But, since I had suffered from poor digestion and chronic fatigue almost all my life, I thought it would at least be a good tonic. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the powerful health properties of green foods (beyond the fact that vegetables were good for you, that is). I now know that, for one thing, they are the richest source of antioxidants – which are nature’s best weapon against cellular damage. I also now realise that one of the 21 ingredients of this product (Catalase) breaks down hydrogen peroxide, which scientists have since found is present in higher levels on the skin of vitiligo patients and which they think may be responsible for the destruction of melanocytes, leading to vitiligo. (This explains why Pseudocatalase is one of the few vitiligo treatments with an impressive track record.)
Given that my trial of these supplements was really only based at the time on a vague hunch (rather than the more informed perspective that I now have, thanks to extensive research of the internet), I approached it with low expectations but a commitment to give this nutritional experiment a fair trial. I had read on the Boost literature that it should be taken in conjunction with sun exposure, so I resigned myself to the fact that this would increase the contrast between my white patches and the rest of my skin and sat out in the sunshine as many times a week as the British Spring and Summer would allow. Well used to disappointment, I resolved to continue with this process but not to get my hopes up - I’d been down that particular road before.
If I had had any real expectation of success at the time I would have taken loads of proper “before” photos for posterity (the ones I do have are pretty dramatic, but the contrast could have been even clearer if I’d taken the before shots earlier, before the first freckles started to appear). But, as anyone with vitiligo knows, allowing anyone to see you (never mind photograph you) without camouflage or clothing to hide behind is scary. And seeing yourself in pictures looking like a mosaic can be so depressing that it’s much easier to avoid the whole thing. So, imagine my shock – and complete delight – when about 6 weeks or so later I started to see a swarm of freckles appearing on my previously completely de-pigmented chest and a few emerging around my “panda eyes”!
Since then I have gone on to regain virtually all of my lost skin colour. Only someone who has suffered with a disfiguring skin condition will understand what this means. I know that some people with vitiligo are mentally tough enough to embrace it and not allow it to upset them. But, for most of us, it is the cause of daily distress, hassle, embarrassment and, often, bouts of depression. This is why – until an alternative, universally acknowledged cure is found – I will continue to tell my story in the hope that it will help others to experience the same life-changing recovery as I have. I’m realistic enough to recognise that the approach I used may not work for everyone (vitiligo is a complex condition – a simple cure would have been developed by now if that weren’t the case). But, at the very least, I want my experience to offer vitiligo sufferers proof positive that it IS possible to get your natural skin colour back, even after 50 years.
Back in 2010 - before I re-pigmented - this is what my legs looked like under a Wood's Light. They are now 99% re-pigmented (and a bit slimmer too, I'm glad to say - ha,ha!)
Most of the hairs on the white patches used to be white too but have regained their original colour as the pigment returned to the skin. Nothing unusual in that, of course.
What is strange though is that the hairs in some of the white patches (mainly on the thighs) used to only grow to a fraction of their normal length and then stop, so they felt raised and almost like stubble. But as the pigment returned to the skin, the hairs grew longer and softer again. They are now completely normal again, just like the skin colour.
I wonder if any other vitiigo sufferers have the same experience of stunted hair growth on their white patches?
Check out this inspiring and uplifting blog called Perfectly Flawed. It's "a network for persons dealing with Vitiligo. ...dedicated to focusing on issues surrounding the disease. The goal is to help not only people with Vitiligo but to help the world understand, embrace, and empower their inner beauty. This network will allow people to share photos, arts, and/or writings."
I have found myself offering a lot of advice to other vitiligo sufferers since re-pigmenting unexpectedly 3 years ago. Most of that advice has been in response to specific questions about my treatment. But I also have another piece of advice to offer based on my own experience and that is on the unlikely subject of photography. During the decades when my vitiligo was so widespread and - as I saw it - disfiguring, I avoided having any pictures taken that showed my white patches. Consequently, I had no "before" pictures - quite simply because it never occurred to me that my vitiligo would ever do anything but continue to spread. When I started to see freckles appearing all over my depigmented skin I (reluctantly still!) allowed the photo on the left to be taken so that I would have a record of the improvement. I was much happier posing for the right hand picture (about a year later) for obvious reasons. But my point is, no matter how severe or long-term your vitiligo may be, don't assume that it will always be that way. There may come a time when you wish you had some really good (bad) "before" pictures so you can show how dramatically your skin has improved!
This is a picture of me about 3.5 years ago showing the first few freckles that heralded my re-pigmentation. As you can see, the only areas of normal skin colour were on my shoulders and the outermost portion of my upper arms. Like most people with widespread vitiligo, I always dreaded the summer because it meant covering up or trying to camouflage the large expanses of luminious white skin.
This is me this summer (2013). All the freckles that have been gradually filling in those previously white areas have gradually joined up to the point where I am almost back to an even tan.
After almost 50 summers spent agonising over my disappearing pigment, it is bliss to be able to wear what I want and spend as much time outdoors as I want.
Take heart if you have vitiligo - even if you have had it for a very long time like I did. It does not necessarily follow that you will have it for the rest of your life. You don't have to just accept it if you don't want to. People do recover :)
Yipee! Here comes the sun again! OK, so the large expanses of skin all over my body that were previously pure white are still not all completely tanned yet. But the mottled effect only looks like ordinary freckles. The main thing is that I feel normal and am happy to wear summer clothes without having to cover up. It's wonderful to be able to enjoy this Indian Summer like I used to before I had vitiligo. It makes such a difference :)
Thinking back to how my vitiligo developed, it was quite literally a patchy process! There were years when it progressed slowly, times when it seemed stable, and frightening and depressing times when new lesions appeared almost daily and I was terrified to look in a mirror.
The onset of these new patches of white skin was also a mixed bag. Many of them were heralded by an intensely itchy rash, which only cleared once the new patch had appeared underneath. Other patches seemed to just silently emerge with no warning whatsoever and no accompanying symptoms. Other, larger expanses of skin (e.g. my face and the backs of my legs and my chest) just seemed to gradually morph into total whiteness without my ever having been aware of any patches as such.
Equally strange is the way the vitiligo has been disappearing over the past two years. Most of the re-pigmentation has developed in the form of freckles - pale at first, then darker and more numerous, until freckles have piled on top of freckles and started to join up. Other areas have just "phased" back into a light tan. And a limited patch on the top of each foot has not re-pigmented at all (well maybe it has taken on a milky flesh colour, rather than the stark white of vitiligo, but that's all). These are the only two areas that still don't bear too much scrutiny. The rest could pass for normal now, if a bit mottled in places.
So, there you have it - a patchy picture in every sense of the word!
My name is Caroline.