Since her career began, Winnie has done a lot to raise awareness of vitiligo, acting as a public spokesperson, including speaking on a TED Talk about how her life has been affected by the condition.
But while many of us can identify it, there is still confusion as to what the causes, symptoms and treatments of the condition are.
There are many reasons why supermodel Winnie Harlow is striking, one reason being, of course, her skin. Like 1 in 100 people in the UK, Winnie has a skin condition known as vitiligo, which causes pale patches of skin.We called upon Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation ambassador to answer everything you need to know
What is vitiligo?
According to the British Skin Foundation, vitiligo is a persistent of chronic condition in which areas of skin lose their normal pigment, and become very pale as a result. “The most commonly affected sites on the body include exposed areas such as the hands and face – where the condition often starts; in body folds such as armpits or groin area; places where the skin has been damaged such as cuts; around body openings such as eyes, belly button, nose or genitals; and also in the areas around pigmented moles,” explains Dr Mahto.
What are the causes?
According to Dr Mahto, the causes of vitiligo are still unknown; “Although the true cause of vitiligo is not fully understood, many think that it’s a disease where the body destroys its own melanocytes with antibodies. When this happens, the skin can’t make melanin properly and leaves the person with vitiligo.”
This means that vitiligo is considered to be an autoimmune condition, which is a class of diseases where the body attacks itself. Most autoimmune diseases have a trigger, and although this is still a widely unknown area of research, it’s thought that vitiligo is triggered by trauma to the skin, for example excessive scratching.
Where does it affect?
While the condition can affect all areas of the body, there are certain places where it more commonly presents. “The most commonly affected sites on the body include exposed areas such as the hands and face – where the condition often starts,” explains Dr Mahto. It is also common in body folds such as armpits or the groin area, places where the skin has been damaged such as cuts, around body openings such as eyes, belly button, nose or genitals and also in the areas around pigmented moles.
Is there a cure?
Currently, there is no cure for vitiligo, but there are various treatments that can help to restore some melanin to the skin at least temporarily and some can slow down the progression of the condition. “Topical corticosteroids may restore some pigment to the skin,” says Dr Mahto. “There’s also phototherapy, which involves exposing the skin to artificial ultraviolet light, but this treatment isn’t suitable for all patients and has some adverse effects,” explains Dr Mahto.
Dr Mahto also recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30, paying special areas of skin that are affected as they can burn more easily. Discover our round up of the best broad spectrum sun creams here.