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A woman with vitiligo poses for the camera. The vitiligo is a noticeably lighter color than her normal skin color.

Winnie Harlow attends the amfAR Gala during the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

If you’ve heard of fashion model Winnie Harlow, you may already be familiar with a skin condition that affects between 0.5 and 1% of the population worldwide. 

It happens when skin loses its pigment (coloring), causing white patches of skin that can sometimes cover the entire body. While Harlow has found stardom, that is not the reality for the vast majority of people with vitiligo.

“Many, if not most, people with vitiligo feel self-conscious,” says Brett King, MD, PhD, a Yale Medicine dermatologist. “Feelings range from embarrassment to clinical depression.”

“When vitiligo is very noticeable, patients often report that people will avoid touching them, even in day-to-day transactions such as when shaking hands or exchanging money at a restaurant,” says Dr. King.

Although there is no cure for vitiligo, there may be hope. At Yale Medicine Dermatology, Dr. King is performing research on the use of a new class of medicines for the treatment of the disorder.