Previously published in our Dispatches magazine, in this article Maxine Whitton MBE and previous Patron of the Vitiligo Society explores the role that cosmetic camouflage can have in helping to manage vitiligo.
It seems to be true that most people with vitiligo can cope better when the face is not affected. The face, quite apart from being an important element in our identity, also plays a vital role in the way we communicate with the rest of the world. Our ideas of beauty are mainly centred on the face. A disfigurement or blemish, even a small spot on the face can be seen as a disaster. It can leave the person with a visible difference exposed to teasing, bullying, staring and rude comments, often from complete strangers. Fear of contagion can can also lead to recoil from touch. Its therefore not surprising that some people with vitiligo want to hide what they perceive as a problem.
There is no cure for vitiligo and the treatments available have limited success with no guarantee that the condition with no guarantee that the condition will not recur, so many people resort to covering up the affected areas, particularly hands, neck and face, either with clothing or cosmetic camouflage. There is a wide range of camouflage products available and coupled with skilful instruction in how to apply them can make a huge difference. Remarkable results can be achieved when a good match is made with the unaffected skin tone.
That being said, camouflage products are not without problems. Concealing the white patches may not be the best way to come to terms with vitiligo. It is all too easy to hide behind a wall of make-up and pretend that nothing is wrong. This can lead to increased anxiety born of fear of running it off and people seeing the affected area as it really is.
Another factor to take into account is that vitiligo is unpredictable and generally spreads. While it is possible to over the affected, exposed areas, these may get bigger or more of them could appear. People living with vitiligo therefore have to spend more and more time disguising the white patches, leading to further anxiety. It is also worth bearing in mind that with active vitiligo there are likely to be other affected areas which cannot be covered.
On the positive side camouflage products are usually water-proof and may allow swimming if patches are not too extensive. The creams can also be used in conjunction with some other prescribed creams and ointments, usually corticosteroids or calcineurin inhibitors which can improve the condition in some cases.
Cosmetic camouflage is most useful when it is part of an informed choice and after acceptance of the disease. It the person with vitiligo is covering up their patches at all times, in some cases (reported anecdotally) even before going to bed, then they are too dependent on it. If on the other hand they choose when to use it and feel comfortable without it in familiar surroundings and with friends and family, the likelihood is that they are coping better with the condition.
There is no doubt that many people with vitiligo have found that cosmetic camouflage makes a big difference to their self-confidence and it remains an important part of dealing with this enigmatic condition.
Our partners at Changing Faces offer a specialist Skin Camouflage Service and free appointments with trained skin camouflage practitioners at clinics across England and Scotland. You can find out more about this service by visiting: changingfaces.org.uk/services-support/skin-camouflage-service