History of Vitiligo
Vitiligo was observed very early in history, and most ancient civilizations and religions had references to people who lacked pigmentation. One of the earliest terms, Switra, came from the the Rig Veda. Philological and linguistic evidence indicate that the Rigveda was composed in the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent, roughly between 1700–1100 BC (the early Vedic period).
In 1550 BC, the Ebers Papyrus mentioned two forms of depigmentation that could be interpreted as leprosy or depigmentation resembling vitiligo. By 1400 BC white leprosy spots were called Sveta khushtha in the Atharva Veda and in 1200 BC Japanese Shinto prayers described depigmentation in the Amarakosa. Around 600 BC, the Ashtanaga hridaya explained prognostic factors of depigmentation.
In 250 BC, Ptolemy II translated the Bible from Hebrew into Greek and in the Leviticus XIII (Old Testament), the word Zara’at used for different skin conditions was translated as “lepros” (scales) that was misinterpreted later on as leprosy and other hypopigmented disorders defined as unclean diseases. In 200 BC, the Indian Manu Smriti described “Sweta Kushtha” meaning “white disease” probably referring to vitiligo. Herodotus (484-425), the Greek historian, claimed that foreigners ‘had sinned against the sun’ and must leave the country. Years later, the term vitiligo was perhaps derived from the latin word vitelius and used to describe the white flesh of calves, and finally the word vitiligo was attributed to Celsus in his classic Latin book De Medicina in the first Century AD.
Throughout the centuries vitiligo continued to be one of the most important depigmentation ailments worldwide provoking discrimination and/or segregation in certain cultures, where affected individuals were unable to find jobs or get married, based upon ancient religious beliefs.
After the middle ages, around 1533, Andreas Vesalius postied that skin has two layers. Several decades later, Jean Riolan the Younger (1580-1657) separated the skin of a black subject into the upper black layer (horny layer) and the lower white layer “as snow” (dermis).
In 1665, Marcello Malpighi proposed that skin color was mainly determined by the granules of stratum mucosum, not those of stratum corneum or dermis.
Finally, Giosue Sangiovanni in 1819 was the first to describe melanocytes in the squid, which he termed as ‘chromatophores’.
In 1837, Friedrich Henle also identified pigment producing cells in human epidermis, as identical to pigment cells of the eye.
In 1879, Moritz Kaposi was one of the first to observe lack of pigment granules in the rete pegs of vitiligo. To close this chain of historical events, Bruno Bloch in 1917 described the DOPA reaction demonstrating the melanin synthesizing enzyme tyrosinase within the melanocyte.
In summary, around 4000 years of known history elapsed from the time man became aware of vitiligo, white spots on the skin, until the melanocyte was finally identified as the responsible actor for depigmentation and other pigmentary disorders.
(Sourced from: http://vrfoundation.org/resource-center/history-of-vitiligo)
During the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States, cases of vitiligo began to attract a great deal of interest from both the lay public and the medical community, and they began to carry interesting cultural implications. Perhaps the most recognized and influential case of vitiligo from this period was that of Henry Moss.
Henry Moss, a man of African descent who was born in Virginia, first began to experience depigmentation of his skin at the age of 38 years, beginning on his hands and eventually extending to his arms, legs, and face. Four years later, in the summer of 1796, he exhibited his body for a fee in taverns in the Philadelphia area as well as before members of the American Philosophical Society. Moss quickly became a popular attraction, and, according to Charles Caldwell,1 a noted physician, his name was “almost as familiar to the readers of newspapers and other periodicals . . . as was that of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or Madison.”
For an in-depth story about Henry Moss visit http://www.common-place.org/vol-04/no-02/yokota/ and https://vitiligocover.com/vitiligo-in-history-henry-moss/
To read Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on vitiligo read this https://vitiligocover.com/what-did-thomas-jefferson-think-about-vitiligo/
Parchment photo source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PEbers_c41.jpg