White spots on black skin describe a medical condition called vitiligo. Although distributed throughout the human racial spectrum, the disease is especially noticeable in black skin. It can appear at any age, in both sexes and begins with a few small spots that develop and spread quickly over wide areas of the body.
No specific cause for vitiligo has ever been found, but the victim may have other family members with the disease. Genetic research has found common genes in vitiligo patients and their families. The white spots occur when pigment cells in the skin die or are destroyed by the body's immune system. An area of skin and hair turns white because the cells can no longer make pigment. Research suggests that exposure to chemicals called phenols combined with emotional and physical stress might be environmental triggers.
Vitiligo usually starts on the hands, arms, face and feet and eventually spreads. Occasionally it may affect only one side of the body or one limb. Typically progressive and unremitting, vitililigo may come and go with no evident pattern or cycle.
Light-skinned people may chose to forgo treatment because their white spots are not visible, particularly if the victim does not tan her unaffected skin. This is rarely an option for those with black skin; the social consequences are too great. There are three choices in treatment; darken the white spots, bleach the remaining black skin or use a cosmetic camouflage.
In the final years of Michael Jackson's life, it was rumored he suffered from the disease and was seeing a dermatologist. If you see pictures of him in his early years, he was quite dark. Before his death in 2009, his skin was almost white. It is quite likely that he used a mix of the following modalities to treat his vitiligo: darken the white spots; a combination of topical or oral medications and repeated ultraviolet light treatments can sometimes re-pigment the white spots of vitiligo. The trouble is, ultraviolet light also darkens normal skin, thus making the contrast even more obvious. He may also have bleached the remaining black skin; a medication containing monobenzone can bleach the normal pigmented skin. Cosmetics may have also been used to cover up the spots; stains can be carefully applied to the involved areas until the color mimics the natural color of the surrounding dark skin.
Options and Outcome
The average patient does just as Michael Jackson did; uses a variety of products and approaches. Certainly, in the long run, cosmetic cover-up smooths out the obvious contrast in color.