VITILIGO: A UNIQUELY BEAUTIFUL SKIN CONDITION
Every skin is beautiful in its own form. Even though beauty is beyond what appears to be on the surface, we humans at the very first instance are attracted to a flawless, well-structured face. Skin is often a marker of beauty and people with visible skin conditions which have noticeable marks or scars are often subjected to indifference. The standards of defining beauty have significantly changed the way people view patients with skin conditions.
Vitiligo, a dermatological disorder is viewed as so much more than just a skin condition. Vitiligo occurs due to the loss of melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in our skin. The absence or lack of these cells result in discoloration of the skin and visible patchy white macules on the skin. Vitiligo can occur at any age and affects both males and females all over the world.
Skin being the most visible part of the body attracts the maximum attention and we as a society are quick to base judgements on someone’s skin pigmentation rather than seeing them for the person they are. False beliefs and stigmatisation make life more difficult for people with vitiligo. People with such visible skin conditions are often faced with the issue of dealing with psychological problems like depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem and confidence. Such a dermatological condition often affects the patients emotional well-being and social relationships.
Dr. Varun Khullar (MBBS, MD SKIN & VD) expresses that the most common myth surrounding vitiligo is that it spreads through touch. He addresses the myth that though vitiligo is said to have a genetic phenomenon, it does not spread through contact. Vitiligo is not a contagious disease and it definitely isn’t proven to be medically dangerous to one’s physical health.
Vitiligo can happen on any part of the body, and is classified into three types -Focal vitiligo, Generalized vitiligo, and Segmental vitiligo. This classification is based upon the areas and number of patches a person has. However, the white patches are more prominently visible on people with brown skin and people often find it difficult to come to terms with.
For ages, lack of awareness has resulted in social stigma and the society’s perception about this condition has affected people with vitiligo in every aspect shaping their experiences and coping strategies differently.
People hailing from certain rural areas still believe that white patches on the skin is a karma response to some past wrongdoings. Vitiligo is viewed as a punishment and hence people with vitiligo are shamed and avoided to an extent that they are barred from sharing the same room in the household, forced to stay indoors, are made to follow vegetarianism and avoid direct light from the sun.
Dr. Varun believes that addressing concerns relating to skin pigmentation caused by vitiligo is extremely important due to the enormous stigma associated with it.
Dr. Varun Khullar (MBBS, MD SKIN & VD) and his foundation Choti Choti Khushiyan, a non-governmental organisation on this World Vitiligo Day are starting an initiative for people below the poverty line to avail free treatment and medications for vitiligo and are offering surgeries at concessional rates thereby promising to pledge their entire support to help people with vitiligo throughout their treatment.
Dr. Varun was deeply touched when an eight-year old girl walked into his OPD with vitiligo patches around her eyes and shared her experience of being bullied and repeatedly teased at school. While interacting with her, Dr. Varun discovered that her father is a daily-wage worker. Listening to first-hand experience of a little soul facing so much difficulty prompted Dr. Varun to take action and spread awareness among underprivileged masses and help patients with Vitiligo as such encounters at a tender age hamper the growth of any child.
Dr. Varun’s venture is an open for all initiative across India, where he would set-up designated centres and create a network of dermatologists from every city of India, who support his cause and are concerned about the welfare of vitiligo patients. These centres would be designed for specifically treating BPL Vitiligo patients where after proper analysis, the dermatologists would be provided with all kinds of medical supplies and assistance to treat patients and perform surgery if required at a very nominal cost.
The progress and research involved in medical science is beyond imaginable. Treatments involving steroids, use of Ultraviolet A, the narrowband Ultraviolet B, surgical options like split-thickness skin grafting and melanocyte transfer, re-pigmentation of skin possible by using the method of photo-therapy are all proof of the extensive research on treatments of Vitiligo.
Vitiligo is completely a separate skin condition and is not related to skin cancer, leprosy, or albinism nor is it related to sun damage, as it is not a mitigating factor. People are advised to avoid direct sun exposure to avoid sun burns. Another common myth surrounding Vitiligo is that it is caused by the consumption of white substances such as milk. A diet rich in antioxidants and stress free life helps, but vitiligo is an auto-immune disease that has no direct relation to food.
Dr. Khullar informs that the loss of the pigment melanin from our skin is a biological process and is totally unrelated to any other part of the body other than the skin. People with white patches are completely healthy beings and this skin condition does not cause any impairment. For people with this skin condition, self-acceptance and self-love, being comfortable in their own skin is the key to conquer all stigma associated with Vitiligo.
Beauty bias and racial prejudice has always existed in India. Colourism as a form of discrimination is maintained even furthermore in cases of vitiligo. Cosmetic brands thrive on this and mint money by setting unfair parameters of beauty by advertising about covering scars with layers of products which will in turn make one acceptable in society.
Females are known to be more affected with this condition than men particularly due to poor dietary consumption. Such females are often viewed as unattractive. Dealing with the pain of unwanted stares and being labelled as impure, is nothing compared to the chances of marriage becoming remote for young girls with vitiligo. Though not having vitiligo does not negate the chance of it being present in the future generation, both men and women with vitiligo have to face the society’s wrath in such situations.
Apart from the emotional impact, the feeling of isolation is the worst. No human being likes to be left out. Isolation and discrimination in workplaces, distressing interpersonal relationships, being mocked at or being subjected to pity are common instances of what people with vitiligo face in their daily life. Lesions on hands and face often become a sight for teasing and bulling among young children who are left emotionally vulnerable.
Dealing with body-image issues from a young age has a profound impact on self-esteem. Feeling emotionally shattered and embarrassed about one’s own skin is a trauma experience someone with vitiligo has to go through every day. Often people with vitiligo feel unworthy and tend to hide their skin by covering their body completely.
Dr. Varun’s ‘Choti Choti Khushiyan’ has always aimed at bringing a million smiles on the faces of the underprivileged. He expresses that social acceptance comes with self-acceptance. There is no definite cure to vitiligo. Every patient responds differently to treatments. Light therapy, oral medications, vitamins and enzymes do help but what can really make a difference is embracing people with vitiligo. This vitiligo day, he urges everyone to celebrate people’s differences rather than being disrespectful and insensitive.