Buried in Skin: White Face, Black Past ÔÇ£Inside the World of VitiligoÔÇØ

Vitiligo in Kashmir

Umer Shah, 23 years old, a resident of Khwajbazar Srinagar is waiting for his turn on the wooden bench outside the room no. 213 (Dermatology department of Ranawari Hospital). He is continuously rubbing his hands to make himself warm. A streak of light coming in through a jar window makes a white patch on his face shine.


Umer was diagnosed with vitiligo (leukoderma) in 2009 when he began to notice a circular white patch on his left cheek.

ÔÇ£We thought it was just sunburn but is worse than that.ÔÇØ Says Khalida Shah, ┬áUmerÔÇÖs mother.

With time white circular patch on his face began to grow and later, his eyebrow and part of neck turned to be white. He was taken to the general physician where he was diagnosed with vitiligo and was referred to the dermatologist.

ÔÇ£Doctors gave me ointments, bath soaps but they were ineffective, I feel that it is just something with which I have to live my whole life.ÔÇØ Says Umer

During starting days, Umer ÔÇÖs life was smooth but hell broke loose when his college mates didnÔÇÖt take his two shaded skin for granted.

Umer says that people often make him uncomfortable by asking a wired question about his disease. ÔÇ£They ask me is it infectious, contagious. I am fed up with answering now.ÔÇØ He says with tears rolling down his cheeks

Recollecting his gory memories he laughs and says ÔÇ£My own 5-year-old nephew told me that I look like a cow.ÔÇØ

Taking a pause for a minute, he resumes, ÔÇ£ My arms, neck and face honestly look awful due to the uneven tone of my skin.ÔÇØ

Umer claims of having many anecdotes of indirect abuse. He says that people stare at him, and feel awkward to eat with him as they think vitiligo is a contagious disease, which can spread through touching. He hides his patches, usually by wearing helmets or face mask at the public or social gathering.

ÔÇ£ItÔÇÖs not only a depigmentation or a cosmetical problem, itÔÇÖs physical, psychological, and it deals with your health. You will never know how it feels until you have it,ÔÇØ Says Umer

Instead of living in the 21st-century vitiligo patient’s still face social discrimination, from childhood to marriage phase, because of the social taboo attached to them.

It becomes very hard to find the perfect match for a person who is suffering from vitiligo. ÔÇ£Bride demands perfect groom and groom demands perfect bride. ÔÇØSays Bashir Ahmad, a matchmaker ÔÇ£It takes years to find a match for them and in most of the cases we try to find vitiligo groom for vitiligo bride, as there is more compatibility.ÔÇØ

Dr.Hina, a dermatologist says that ÔÇ£vitiligo is non-contagious skin disease caused by loss of skin pigment or melanin secreted by melanocytes. In vitiligo, melanocytes are destroyed by a personÔÇÖs own immune cells, which lead to discolouration of the skin and leaving patches of colourless skin.ÔÇØ

ÔÇ£It is possible in the majority of patients of getting pigment back to the skin but response varies from patient to patient, which depends on the severity of the disease. We usually try to cure patients by giving them drugs and in severe cases, we give them Narrowband UV-B therapy, Phototherapy or sometimes skin grafting is done. ÔÇ£She further says

Dr Hina says that it is a myth that vitiligo is contagious or communicable and fatal. ÔÇ£They are also normal human beings like us, People should realize that it is just a disease like that of diabetes or thyroids. They should be treated equally.ÔÇØ

Vitiligo Is not physically painful, but sometimes it leads to physiological disorder. It has a major impact on quality of life of patients who feel distressed and stigmatized. Our society greets them in the same way as it does anyone else who appears to be different. These patients are started or subjected to whispered comments, antagonism insult or isolation, which leads to low self-esteem of patients and results in depression.

Dr Mansoor a senior psychiatrist says that ÔÇ£Vitiligo patients often suffer through depression and adjustment disorder. Teenagers are more looks cautious; we get patients who are obsessed with a small pimple. We often have the opportunity to interact with these beautiful but sad personalities.ÔÇØ

He says that vitiligo patients can have moderate or severe depression. In mild we help patients with counselling sessions. We try to resolve their emotional issues and make them understand they should accept it and live with it. In the moderate stage, both medicines and counselling sessions are preferred.

Fast Facts on Vitiligo

  • Vitiligo can affect people of any age, gender, or ethnicity.
  • There is no cure, and it is usually a lifelong condition.
  • Vitiligo is not contagious.
  • Treatment options may include exposure to UVA or UVB light and depigmentation of the skin in severe cases.

The exact causes of vitiligo are unclear. A number of factors may contribute, these include:

  • An autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system becomes overactive and destroys the melanocytes
  • A genetic oxidative stress imbalance
  • A stressful event
  • Harm to the skin due to a critical sunburn or cut
  • Exposure to some chemicals
  • A neural cause
  • Heredity, as it may run in families
  • A virus

The only symptom of vitiligo is the appearance of flat white spots or patches on the skin. The first white spot that becomes noticeable is often in an area that tends to be exposed to the sun.

Overcoming social challenges

If the skin patches are visible, the social stigma of vitiligo can be difficult to cope with. Embarrassment can lead to problems with self-esteem, and in some cases, anxiety and depression can result.

People with darker skin are more likely to experience difficulties because the contrast is greater. In India, vitiligo is known as “white leprosy.”

Increasing awareness about vitiligo, for example, by talking to friends about it, can help people with the condition to overcome these difficulties. Connecting with others who have vitiligo may also help.

Anyone with this condition who experiences symptoms of anxiety and depression should ask their dermatologist to recommend someone who can help.


ÔÇ£Vitiligo is a blessing in disguise.┬áIt makes you a better person when you accept your own imperfections.ÔÇØ

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