Missouri woman supports people with vitiligo
By Harry Jackson Jr.
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Nathalie Pelletier’s case of vitiligo, a skin condition that discolors the skin, was mild. Still, she started blogging about it. (https://vitiligocover.com)
That’s when she found other people that had cases much more severe.
“I started getting emails from people whose lives were (destroyed) by the condition,” she said, “people contemplating ending their lives.”
The condition can be emotionally crippling even though it’s not physically debilitating.
WHAT IT IS
Vitiligo causes pigment cells most commonly on hands and face, to stop working. Doctors don’t know the cause, but it doesn’t cause physical disability.
The remedies are skin treatments that get pigment cells to work or cosmetic cover ups.
HOW IT STARTED
“I can’t believe how many people feel alone,” Pelletier said. “I feel the need to reach out.”
Pelletier’s condition began about 10 years ago with discoloration below her fingernails. “I thought it was a fungus that I got from a manicure,” she said.
The condition spread slowly over her hands, face and knees. She’s fair-skinned so it was difficult to see — until summer. “I tan easily, and that’s when it stands out,” she said.
Pelletier’s dermatologist, Dr. Daniel Ring of West County Dermatology, used an ultraviolet B laser to stimulate the growth of pigment cells — the same light used in tanning. “But it only exposes the affected skin,” he said.
The UV laser helped to return some of Pelletier’s skin tone.
Treatment can be costly because some medical insurance companies consider vitiligo a cosmetic problem, not a true illness.
As she communicated online with people, she found that people with darker skin had more emotional problems, because the stark contrasts between the very light skin and the dark skin caused people to stare. In some cases, they were rejected by friends.
“Sometimes I’ll tell someone to go out and do one thing a day to start living again,” she said.
She also learned information she shares with others.
A woman in Africa stopped eating meat and her condition went away; another increased her intake of vitamin B12, folic acid, which relieved her condition.
But the condition remains mysterious. “What works for me may or may not work for someone else,” she said.