The Makeup Controversy

unreasonable expectations

In today’s society, women face unreasonable expectations to prioritize their physical appearance rather than their mental health and personality. No matter their age, girls often cover their blemishes and “imperfections” with makeup in order to fit in and gain a sort of societal acceptance. Granted, this “cosmetic camouflage,” as some have come to brand it, can raise one’s confidence and self-esteem, making them more comfortable in their body.

While the rest of my friends happily patted on their foundation and glued on all sorts of eyelashes to get ready for parties and big events, I always remained hesitant to hop onto this bandwagon. I thought that if I put on makeup, then I would have to cover my vitiligo – thus conveying that my skin disease was bad and that I was covering it up because it was something I wasn’t proud of – which isn’t true. 

After entering high school, I got some makeup for Christmas and my temptation grew. I started playing around with different foundations and concealers to cover my white skin to see what I would look like without vitiligo. I was really interested to see the transformation, as I never really considered how different I would look – or if I would look different at all. I covered the white on my eyelids with a dark brown eye shadow, used a concealer over my forehead and chin, and some lip gloss to darken my lips. Surprisingly, I saw someone in the mirror who I recognized. Honestly, she didn’t look all that different to the visible eye. But there was this little sting in my stomach, and it didn’t feel right. This wasn’t me. 

I’m not someone who covers her vitiligo, and I don’t want to hide it. My white skin has become a part of me, and frankly, I can’t imagine myself without it. On the other hand, countless other individuals choose to cover their vitiligo daily – and I completely understand why. Vitiligo is a disease of the skin, but its harshest barriers are presented mentally; it feels like all your insecurities and vulnerabilities are on display for everyone to see, and it’s all they see. I want to acknowledge a few individuals for their vitiligo cases and how they used makeup in different ways to demonstrate the sheer power – both good and bad – of vitiligo.

A rather infamous case of this disease is Michael Jackson. Jackson’s vitiligo appeared and grew throughout his career, and a few professionals have claimed that it may have originated on his hands. In addition to being a talented performer, he was also talented at concealing his white skin, despite being immensely stressed and frustrated with the depigmentation. Eventually, instead of using dark makeup to cover his white skin, Jackson began wearing all white makeup. Some doctors have claimed that he used Benoquin, an FDA-approved “treatment” for vitiligo. However, this cream drains the rest of the pigmentation from his skin, rather than restoring it, thus explaining his transformation to all white skin. Michael Jackson’s story with vitiligo, while not a typical one, is a very extreme case of the psychological influence of this disease and the temptation to conceal the “flaws”. Being such a prominent star, it makes sense that Jackson was so stressed and determined to cover his vitiligo – because he didn’t know how his audience and his fans were going to react. He was probably scared, and some even suggest that vitiligo was an agent that led him to drug use. 

While Michael Jackson’s experience with vitiligo is rather disheartening, I’m glad to say that there has been more public advocacy concerning skin-disease recently. Fortunately, there are models with vitiligo who have published their own personal stories and battles, such as Winnie Harlow. My family first spotted Harlow, a model with vitiligo, on a Desigual advertisement in Europe; ever since, I’ve been following her on Instagram and observing what she has done for the vitiligo community. Harlow has has vitilgo since she was 4. She competed on America’s Next Top Model and became a prominent advocate for skin disorders on popular media. Winnie poses proudly with her white skin, and has shown that vitiligo doesn’t have to hold anyone back from achieving their dreams. She acknowledges the challenge and the difficulty of overcoming the mental and societal barriers, but doesn’t say it’s impossible. I admire Winnie because she’s expanded her platform and reached diverse demographics of women, successfully sharing her story and encouraging others to do so. She’s also become close with Kim Kardashian over shared struggles with autoimmune conditions and together, these two women have been working on a KKW x Winnie makeup collection. While Winnie embraces the creativity and freedom of makeup, she also embraces her vitiligo and never really covers it up. I also really admire Logina Salah, a makeup artist with vitiligo. She has a rather flexible opinion, as she supports both covering and uncovering white skin. She believes everyone should feel comfortable with their skin and hide these “imperfections” and feel beautiful, but we shouldn’t let them get in and “destroy your inner peace.” Wearing makeup is an option; and no one should ever feel like they HAVE to wear makeup to be included and match our societal norms. I agree with Salah because ultimately, our goal is to feel comfortable and confident in our skin, and however we get there is valid. We all have different modes of coping, but the end goal is the same. You can wear as much or as little makeup as you want, and whether someone covers or displays their white patches, it makes no difference. Let’s share our beauty and encourage each other, because skin diseases should never rule our lives; instead, we’ll rule them.



Hope: a Blessing or a Curse?

a quick definition

Hope /hōp/

Noun – a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

My own definition: the most powerful, yet wicked motivation.

People have different perspectives on hope; some see it in a positive light and use it as comfort and coping mechanism, while others panic and impulsively eliminate their high expectations with a fear of failure. Like many other concepts in the world, it’s hard to categorize hope as merely “black or white”. Speaking from experience with both extremes, both strategies have helped me, and equally destroyed me.

I’ve worked with many different doctors – from different parts of the world, with different resources and ideas, from different demographics, with varying experience. With all these different variables, one thing remains stagnant – they all present with a tingle of hope and encouragement for their patients, that they will get cured under certain treatments and get most, if not all, pigmentation back. Unlike most kids, I looked forward to going to the doctor, because it meant new possible treatments – a reason to keep fighting. Entering each doctor’s office meant they would tell me that there was another breakthrough with steroids or topical creams or sometimes a new oral medicine – something that would make any diseased kid jump out of their seat with excitement. A chance for the pain and exhaustion to be over, meaning they could return to a normal, average childhood.

But nothing is quite that easy, is it? We got a recommendation from a family member that going gluten-free made her white spots go away for as long as she stayed on the. So without question, we stopped buying bread, switched to vegetable pasta, cut any unneeded gluten out of my meals for upwards of three months. Nothing happened. During my excimer laser treatments, I spent plenty of my time talking to nurses about progress in other patients, who would see little brown dots forming on their skin every few weeks and were still making progress. Fortunately, I saw a few dots too, but nothing substantial in comparison to the other patients. This pattern continued with lightbox treatments and our other prevention methods. I had habituated this behavior so much, that when the Indian government approved its first official vitiligo cure, I laughed. My hope had destroyed me, as my standards were so low for new medication that I could hardly address it as the “cure” it was branded as. Honestly, I barely even followed my medicine schedule until my dad got stricter about it.

The point I’m trying to make is, treatments work differently for everybody. Different bodies react to different treatments, and while there have been great breakthroughs for this condition, there is no official cure. Hope is a good thing to have, because it is a motivation tactic and personally, it gave me willpower to stay on schedule with my medications and treatments. However, excessive hope can lead to a sense of helplessness and one might feel as if they have no control over their cures and should just give up. My hopes got so high that I got sucked into a vicious cycle of pessimism and lost sight of the beauty in this condition. Neither of these extremes are the answer.

Balance is key.


Treatment #4 — Bagchi Oil from Hyderbad

oil and the sun.

With direction from friends and family, my parents found another doctor in Hyderabad, just an hour drive from my grandparent’s home in India. A few weeks later, my mom and I flew to India to stay with my grandparents for a week. My grandpa scheduled an appointment at the clinic and hired a driver to take us there. Despite our eagerness to meet the doctor, we ended up leaving late and we drove against the freeway traffic to arrive at the clinic on time! After the nauseating journey, I happily stepped out of the little gray car and searched for a sign for the clinic. After exploring the block for a few moments, we finally saw a vitiligo patient step out of a rusting gated fence from across the street. We found it!

We walked over the fence and peered around, following through into a brown door. The clinic was small, with low ceilings and dark lighting. It was scorching hot and bright outside, so I was more than happy to wait in the dim room. We were greeted into the doctor’s office by a tall, grimming doctor. He began to discuss a topical oil, made from bagchi. Handing me a small container of a smelly, yellow liquid, he explained that we would apply to the white skin and sit in the sun for 45 minutes. He also gave us a less-concentrated version of the oil to apply at home everyday and sit in the sun. The hopes of this treatment was to target the sunlight to certain parts of skin to regenerate pigmentation. Essentially, the strategy was to mildly burn the skin. This was the first – and certainly not the last- approach we had taken that targeted the pigment from external sources, rather than manipulating the internal chemicals and fluids within the body. My mom gave rupees to the nurse sitting outside to pay for the clinic visit and bagchi oil, and then we applied the oil, crossed the street to visit the gurdwara next door and sat there for 45 minutes. This was one of the most aggravating parts of the treatment for me, because I would get so flustered and hot sitting on the ground in temperatures around 100 degrees. To pass time, we would walk around the road and buy snacks and stickers at the nearby markets.

My mom and I flew back and forth to India several times a year so that we could continue the treatment with strong sunlight as opposed to the muggy rain in Seattle. At the time, I was only in elementary school, so missing school for the doctor visits was not such a big deal. The journey was exhausting, time-consuming, and expensive, but we saw some sort of progress as my skin turned bright pink with the sun treatment. I was super optimistic and cheerful to see some sort of material difference in my skin, even if it was just turning various shades of dark pink.

However, in hindsight, there was nothing substantial in the progress. After a few years, we came across a local Bellevue dermatologist who also practiced UV-light therapy, which we actually coupled with the bagchi oil. I’ll discuss the Bellevue treatment in my next blog!



Understanding Beauty in “Disease”


stigma in society

Generally when you hear the word “disease”, you worry. People associate this term with illness, sickness, infections – the list is endless. So when I initially heard that vitiligo was a “disease”, I was confused. I thought to myself, it’s not a fatal condition, it doesn’t change my everyday life – how could I have something that sounded so… scary? I had never seen vitiligo as a big problem, and it never especially bothered me. That is, until I began comparing myself to other people.

As girls enter high school, there’s a certain expectation that in order to fit in, you must have the “perfect” skinny body, wear brand name clothes, and abide to all the cultural stereotypes and traditions. Naturally, with all these standards engraved in my mind, vitiligo became another barrier in my way to both social and self-acceptance. Every morning, I would trudge to the mirror at 6:30 am, and stare at my vitiligo for what seemed like hours. I would close my eyes and silently pray, even beg, for it to go away, so I could be “normal”. I wanted to be all brown, or sometimes, I wished the white pigment would spread all over my body, and just blanket me completely. Then, I could wear makeup without using extra brown foundation to cover the white patches. However, this battle wasn’t merely a cosmetic problem in regards to how others saw me, but more importantly, how it changed my own self-perception and identity.

I wake up with burns and blisters, rashes, and swelling from the treatments, and I just barely have the motivation to pull over a sweatshirt and race to school. Sure, vitiligo isn’t fatal or threatening, but it has the capability to destroy one’s self-esteem and wreck one’s authentic-self and inner beauty. I would browse through pictures from middle school and feel confident with the shape of my body and stylish clothes. Yet my eyes were always drawn back to the oddly-shaped white patches on my knees, ruining my perception of a picture that should’ve brought back a feeling of nostalgia and happy memories. Even now, I still see group pictures with all my beautiful and confident friends and feel as if my skin ruined the photograph. I even used to  hide in the back of pictures so that no one would see my skin and I wouldn’t feel guilty for “ruining” the picture and the memory. 



I wish I could just tell everyone how to deal with the stress and frustration that comes with vitiligo. However, we all know that everyone comes in different ways. Recently, I’ve opened up to my friends about my insecurities towards my white spots. These friendships have been the most effective way to release my stress and have improved how I deal with my stress and frustration. My friends constantly encourage me to keep fighting, and being surrounded by optimism has changed my outlook on vitiligo and prompts me to make the best out of my situation. They see me at my low points, cracking under stress and fatigue, and remind me that I am not defined by my skin. They remind me that my skin doesn’t ruin any of the pictures or memories; instead, they say my bubbly energy and positive personality makes them infinitely better. But alas, the key to overcoming the insecurities doesn’t lay in the opinions of one’s friends or family, no matter how supporting they are. We all see insecurities in our bodies because we are comparing ourselves to what we BELIEVE is perfection. We get blinded by social obligations. And no matter how beautiful you are to others, you may still feel ugly. I consider vitiligo a disease not of physical and visual matters, but of having the mental strength to persevere through society’s expectations and become comfortable in your perfect imperfections. It’s important to feel good and loved in your own skin and feel healthy. Therefore, I’ve tried to become more appreciative of my body and take care of it. Sometimes I put on a face mask, take a long hot shower, and take some “me-time” to remind myself that though on paper, I do have a disease, I am strong and can overcome anything that this condition throws at me. Exercise also improves my mood substantially, although I’ve struggled to come up with a consistent work-out routine… it’s a work in progress. It’s important to realize that the most important beauty is not tangible, like one’s fashion or make-up choices, but rather the sense and feeling that you are beautiful, and you are just as worthy as everyone else.

Remember: stop fighting your skin. instead, fight FOR your skin.