By Annette Pinder

Vitiligo is a chronic, long-lasting autoimmune disorder affecting 2.8 million men and women globally, causing patches of skin to lose pigment or color when skin cells that make pigment are attacked and destroyed. Celebrities with vitiligo include football coach Carl Dunbar, actor Jon Hamm, ballet superstar Michaela DePrince, runway model Winnie Harlow, and late pop-star Michael Jackson. Here in Western New York, Lisa Toner has lived with vitiligo for over 20 years.

Vitiligo’s main symptom is loss of natural color or pigment of the skin anywhere on the body, including the hands, feet, arms, face, or other body parts. It can also cause hair to turn white in areas where the skin loses pigment, such as the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, beard, and body, and mucous membranes inside the mouth or nose. Vitiligo typically affects both sides of the body. A less common type affects only one side. Vitiligo can occur at an early age and progress for 6 to 12 months before stopping. People typically see patches before age 20, and it is more common in those with a family history, and in those with Addison’s disease; pernicious anemia; psoriasis; rheumatoid arthritis; systemic lupus erythematosus; thyroid disease; and type 1 diabetes. Sometimes an event, such as a sunburn, emotional distress, or chemical exposure can trigger vitiligo or make it worse.

To diagnose vitiligo, your doctor will review your family history and perform a thorough physical exam, which may include using an ultraviolet light to examine areas of your skin that appear chalky and bright. He or she may perform blood tests for other autoimmune diseases; an eye exam to check for inflammation of part of the eye that sometimes occurs with vitiligo; and a skin biopsy. Your doctor may prescribe a medication to help improve the skin’s appearance by slowing or stopping the disease’s progression; encourage regrowth of melanocytes; and restore color to the white skin patches.

Treatments can include medicines or medicated skin creams, such as corticosteroids or a calcineurin inhibitor, to possibly return color to the white patches of skin. Other treatments include light therapy; depigmentation; and even surgical techniques. Dermatologists, primary care physicians, internists, and ophthalmologists often treat vitiligo.

People living with vitiligo often feel sad, ashamed, and depressed about their appearance.

In addition to treatments, it is helpful to protect your skin from the sun, wear sunscreen and protective clothing, and use safe self-tanning lotions to cover patches. “It is also important to reach out to others for support,” says Lisa, adding, “I am not as afraid to show my skin anymore. I used to hate being photographed, but my mindset has totally changed. My faith, along with family support, has carried me through.”

June is National Vitiligo Month, and June 25 celebrates National Vitiligo Day on Michael Jackson’s birthday. Learn about the VITFriends annual conference and more at the organization in Buffalo that Lisa helped found at Learn more at, Follow the organization on Facebook at, and email Lisa at