The team at Vitiliglow® are huge advocates of maintaining positive mental health and with World Mental Health Day taking place today, I wanted to talk about the mental health implications for people with Vitiligo. It’s no secret that I have struggled with having Vitiligo since I developed my first patches 25 years ago.
Whilst I might be at one end of the extreme (even when I shower at home, I need to rush to cover back up), our good friend and supporter Joti Gata-Aura from Positively Diverse has spent the twenty years since her patches first appeared learning to love her skin and be comfortable showing her patches to the world. There is no right or wrong answer here – your journey with Vitiligo is very personal and you must be comfortable with yourself whether you choose to cover your patches like me or are happy not to cover up, like Joti and my two sons, who also have Vitiligo.
Back in the summer, Joti and I spent a very enjoyable afternoon with Liz Ritchie, a body image therapist and psychotherapist from the mental healthcare charity where I work full time. Liz also supported Little Mix star Jesy Nelson in her award-winning BBC documentary, Odd One Out. Liz wanted to talk to both Joti and I to see how we started off over 20 years ago at the point where we both tried to conceal our Vitiligo, yet Joti has gone through a process of fully embracing her patches and I cannot bear any minute where I’m not fully camouflaged.
We are in the process of editing our discussion and will share the video with you soon, but throughout the afternoon, we talked a lot about self-acceptance and how it doesn’t matter whether you cover your patches or choose not to (or do it sometimes, depending on how you feel). The important thing is that you accept this ‘thing’ that you are given and live your best life. Liz talked to us about the routines I undertake rigidly every day and the ways that Joti took small steps to get out of her comfort zone to fully reveal her Vitiligo.
I felt quite emotional speaking to Liz because I seem to have created this prison for myself where Vitiligo is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing at night. I’ve always felt as though I should embrace my patches and feel comfortable showing my patches, but I just can’t. If I could change one thing in the world, it would be that my Vitiligo would disappear and I could have my normal skin back.
However, my discussion with Liz has led me to realise that it’s actually OK to feel like this. That covering up my patches every day is OK and I’ve come to accept that it’s a part of who I am and the way that I deal with my Vitiligo is actually very healthy. I have made an active choice in my life to cover my patches, because it’s the only way I feel comfortable with myself. And this choice has led me to create Vitiliglow®, so that there’s a product for anyone who wants to cover their Vitiligo which is actually an incredibly empowering and rewarding thing to do. I might feel as though I’m a slave to my Vitiligo, but it’s my choice to be that way and although I’d rather not have the condition, I can’t change it and I’ve learned to accept it.
Liz sent an email through after our session, which was incredibly touching and I felt it important to share her thoughts with you all in this blog, as I hope that it will provide support for others who may find they are struggling a little more than usual:
"I felt very privileged to be asked to contribute to Polly and Joti's story about their personal journey living with Vitiligo, a skin condition that affects around 1% of the population.
On meeting them both, I was immediately struck by their warmth, their passion, courage and empathy for each other and their willingness to share their story and its potential effects on the mental health of those who have this condition.
Both spoke candidly about living with Vitiligo and the effect it has had on both of their lives as well as their families and loved ones. Both have two different stories to tell and both have developed their own coping mechanisms in order to live their best lives, which was discussed during our conversation.
I felt it was very important and relevant for viewers to see Polly and Joti's process of acceptance, which they have both navigated in different, but equally valid ways. It was very emotional but extremely inspiring to be part of a very conversation about body image and self acceptance which were explored with honesty and courage.
I know that Polly and Joti wanted to share their story to inform and support those with vitiligo and it will be very relatable to many living with this condition.
I really felt that the ultimate goal for both Polly and Joti was not only to discuss their individual journey but also to address some of the psychological and social problems that can impact on the quality of life for many who have this skin condition.
I came away from my meeting with these two amazing women full of admiration and respect and humbled to be a small part of their story."
The theme for World Mental Health Day this year is to do one thing to improve your mental health. Given the situation we are all living with across the globe, taking some time out to focus on ourselves and embrace who we truly are is the most valuable gift we can give to ourselves in our life.
Founder of Vitiliglow®
I’ve found Instagram a real treasure-trove for discussing and promoting positive mental health, body positivity and chats about vitiligo. I’ve now had vitiligo for over 25 years and it really knocked my confidence, but being able to follow such positive, inspirational people on Instagram can really help you feel part of a ‘vitiligo community’ if, like me, you feel conscious of your vitiligo and nervous about showing your patches. I still choose to cover my vitiligo, and that’s totally okay, but you want to embrace your skin and show it to the world, joining the vitiligo community on Instagram and following a few of these Instagram accounts can help you feel more confident and part of a supportive, understanding community.
Mohamed is obsessed with travel, engineering and sustainability… but he’s also a proud ‘vitiligan’!
Giih’s Instagram feed is packed with self-love and self-esteem! She shares lots of natural vitiligo photos.
British-Asian presenter and influencer Joti is a championing representation in the media. Her feed features herself and lots of other people with vitiligo and visual differences.
Mehak is Pakistan’s first vitiligo ambassador. Her content is bright, fun and inspiring.
AlexMimi is a makeup-lover and fur baby mum, so expect lots of cute pet pics and makeup ideas from her vitiligo-positive Instagram feed.
Kirps is a vitiligo advocate, model and actor. His Instagram feed is full of inspiring vitiligo photography. (Photo credit: @thedanclarke)
Los Angeles-based Claire believes in and promotes self-confidence. She thinks we should be proud of our vitiligo, and her beachy, summery photos definitely reflect that!
Natalie is a UK content creator and freelancer. She works with Stylist Magazine, Cosmopolitan and Dove, and she’s a Changing Faces ambassador. Her feed is full of lifestyle chat, body positivity, self-love and real talk!
Model Faried has great links with Vitiligo Awareness International (@vitiligoawarenessint) and he is brand ambassador for @vitiligo.awareness.store, so he posts lots of brilliant vitiligo photography. Faried also shares lots of videos from people around the world who have vitiligo.
Based in Germany, Hanni focuses on vitiligo skincare. She posts about skincare products, how to look after your skin, and self-care, which is such an important part of wellbeing that a lot of people forget about.
Sina is a vitiligo model in Germany. She posts unique photography of herself, focusing on her vitiligo and body confidence.
Jett is an actor and model with vitiligo. He posts great selfies and car photography but also some really inspirational quotes and affirmations.
A contemporary dancer and model, Anita shares lots of vitiligo selfies and dance photography. Her feed is inspiring and colourful.
Jovana has a great stories highlights reel on vitiligo beauty and feeling confident. She posts lots of fun selfies and motivational quotes.
There are so many more inspiring people on Instagram, and it’s a great place to talk about vitiligo and share your own journey with others. Try following the hashtags #vitiligonation, #vitiligosociety, #vitiliglow, #vitiligo, #vitiligopeople and #vitiligoworld.
I recently took part in Vitiligo Association Australia’s camouflage workshop via Zoom. If you haven’t heard of them, the VAA was founded in September 2010 for patient support, public education and the promotion of research into vitiligo within Australia. Anyone with an interest in vitiligo can join the VAA, which is a not-for-profit association.
At VITILIGLOW®, we have a large customer base in Australia as many people with vitiligo choose to cover up their patches before heading to the beach. The camouflage workshop featured a wide range of camouflage products and companies, and I was delighted to be asked to talk about VITILIGLOW®.
Speakers and experts in the workshop included camouflage expert Joanna Blair. She is a professional makeup artist, director of Joanna Blair School of Makeup and over 20 years of experience with paramedical camouflage makeup. Joanna teaches people with vitiligo how to apply camouflage makeup on themselves.
If you didn’t get the chance to join the Zoom meeting, you can watch the full video here:
Last week, Joti held an IGTV live session with me to discuss skin camouflage, covering up vitiligo and the background behind VITILIGLOW®. I first met Joti several years ago and I’ve been following her on Instagram ever since. Over a quarter of Joti’s followers on Instagram completely cover up and use a cover-up product like makeup or vitiligo camouflage, so clearly many of us feel the same about covering our depigmented patches.
In case you missed any of the live stream on IGTV, I thought I’d write up some of our conversation in this blog post about my honest experience with vitiligo and how developing and using VITILIGLOW® has given me back my confidence. You can also head over to Joti’s Instagram feed (@vitiligo_and_me on Instagram) to watch the live stream in full.
My vitiligo journey
I’ve now had vitiligo for over 20 years. My patches have developed over that time and I’ve lost around 70% of my pigment now. I choose to cover my patches, but there are a lot of people out there who are confident and choose not to cover their patches, and that’s totally fine. My eldest son has vitiligo – he has dark skin so it’s quite noticeable on him – and he chooses not to cover his patches. Whereas I’m quite the opposite – I always cover my patches. Joti also chose to cover up with full face and body coverage for 18 years. I know there are many of you who choose to cover your patches too.
Going back over 20 years, when I was first diagnosed, I had very little knowledge about vitiligo and very little experience of the condition. I didn’t know anyone with vitiligo. None of my family had vitiligo. When I was first diagnosed, I don’t think I really understood how it was going to affect me long-term. I started off with a really small patch on my wrist. It was only when another small patch came up on my other wrist in the same place – I had symmetrical vitiligo – that the doctors were finally able to diagnose it as vitiligo.
For the first few years, I didn’t really let vitiligo bother me. I carried on going out in the sun, wearing the clothes I’d always worn. It’s only when the patches started to spread and became more noticeable that it started to affect me and my confidence. It was at that point that I began my journey of looking for something to cover it up.
Be proud of covering up
Joti agreed that covering your patches can make you feel good. We shouldn’t be ashamed to say that we cover up our patches to feel more confident. I work full-time in healthcare and I want people to listen to me when I do a presentation, for example, and not just be distracted by my vitiligo and patches. For me, it’s easier to cover up and blend in with others!
Joti explained in our IGTV session that the idea of ‘fitting in’ isn’t just related to skin conditions. Many people feel the pressure to ‘fit in’ with others in society and on social media. It’s a topic that the Mental Health Foundation is taking seriously and they’re doing something about it. There are so many people who are dealing with this pressure.
The creation of VITILIGLOW®
This need to cover my patches led me to creating VITILIGLOW®. I wanted to create a product that is quick and easy to use on a daily basis. Traditional camouflage products are generally a three-step process; you have to use a primer, then a shade, then a setting powder or finishing spray, which can take a long time to apply. For me, with depigmentation increasing all over my body, I couldn’t do that every day. By the time I’d covered all my patches in that way, it’d be time to go to bed! So that’s why I wanted to create VITILIGLOW® – a product that is quick and easy to apply every day, doesn’t need any powders or setting sprays, and doesn’t rub off. It’s also water resistant. You can use VITILIGLOW® all over your whole body, and even on your face. I apply VITILIGLOW® every day to cover my patches so I wanted to make it good value for money.
Creating VITILIGLOW® has been an up and down rollercoaster with manufacturers and formulas – it’s taken a good few years to get to where we are – but the formula is the best yet. Even now, I’m still trying to improve the formula – I won’t stop until it’s the perfect product that we all deserve! I still work full-time because money from the VITILIGLOW® sales goes back into developing and improving the products.
Running VITILIGLOW® isn’t all about selling a product. It’s about supporting people; supporting those who want to cover up and supporting those who don’t want to cover up. We ran a successful #VitiliglowConfidence campaign on Instagram which celebrated vitiligo and people who choose not to cover up their depigmented patches.
If you want to watch the IGTV live session in full, head over to Joti’s Instagram page: @vitiligo_and_me.