Skip to main content

See also:

Why did Michael Jackson turn white?

Michael Jackson, the late King of Pop, was a powerful force within the music industry. He will forever live on as the man behind The Moonwalk, Neverland Ranch, and raw, unstoppable talent.

A patient reveals extensive vitiligo of the hands.
James Heilman, MD

With fame, though, came some of Michael's darkest days. As his success grew, people began to criticize every moment of the performer's life. Once his skin changed, the world descended upon him like a pack of wild animals.

Under the watchful eye of the world, Micheal's skin rapidly went from rich ebony to porcelain white. Not surprisingly, people had a lot to say:

  • He's trying to be white!
  • He's ashamed of his race!
  • He bleaching his skin!
  • He brought this on himself!
  • He's doing it on purpose!
  • He's crazy! What a weirdo!

The simple truth is that Michael Jackson had an autoimmune disease called vitiligo. You can't cause it, you can't catch it, and you can't cure it. The few treatments that are available can be expensive, time-consuming, and ineffective with unpleasant side effects. The most practical solution is usually to just cover the lightened areas with makeup.

Vitiligo happens when your own body attacks the cells that produce your skin color. These cells then malfunction or die off. The result? Your skin loses color in patches. These patches can grow larger and larger until there is no unaffected color left. While vitiligo is not painful, it can be extremely distressing.

Micheal's longtime makeup artist, Karen Kaye, remembers how he struggled with the disease:

"The beginnings of the vitiligo started happening relatively early. You know, he even was trying to hide it from me. He tried to hide it for quite a while. You know, he'd always try to cover with makeup and even out his skin tone and everything until it just got so extensive . . . I mean it's all over his body. We were always trying to hide it and cover it for the longest time until he just had to tell Oprah and the world, 'Listen, I'm not trying to be white. I have a skin disease.' You know, in the beginning, I tried to cover the light spots to [match] the darkest part of the skin, but then it became so extensive that we had to go with the lighter part of the skin, because his whole body was reacting. He'd have to be in complete full body makeup - every inch of his body. You know, so it was easier to make the transition to him being to the lighter shade that he is."

Michael is not the only person with vitiligo. JD Runnels, Lee Thomas, Tamar Braxton, Joe Rogan, and a host of other celebrities have the disease. It can affect anyone of any race, too. "Vitiligo affects up to 2% of the population," says WebMD.

Next time you see someone whose skin looks different, don't just assume that it's from skin bleaching. Don't just assume someone has some contagious disease. People with vitiligo aren't "gross." People with vitiligo are just that - they're people. They're moms, dads, sisters and brothers. People care about them, and they care about other people. In the end, isn't that what really matters?