Have you ever noticed anyone with hands which are lighter in the summer than the rest of their body?
Or someone who has white patches on their face and neck?
Well this is a skin condition called Vitiligo. And it’s which can make those affected feel self conscious at being stared at, and even lead to social phobias and mental health issues.
Now imagine if you had Vitiligo and you were constantly in the public eye. One such person is TV celebrity chef Dean Edwards.
Dean, who originally comes from Hengrove, has had the condition since the age of five, and he has been on quite a journey of self acceptance ever since.
World Vitiligo Day was held on Monday (June 25) so Bristol Live spoke to Dean about his condition and his work campaigning and raising awareness of it.
Vitiligo is a condition where pale white patches develop on skin, caused by a lack of melanin, a pigment in the skin.
It is more noticeable in the summer months, when a new tan accentuates the condition and new patches are noticeable.
Those with the condition will often go to great lengths to hide or cover up.
Dean Edwards finished second in BBC’s Masterchef Goes Large in 2006, and is now regularly appears as a chef on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ and Lorraine’.
Despite getting the odd teasing and being called ‘cow hands’ as a child, it wasn’t until he started to appear on TV that he started to become really self conscious.
The condition has spread with age and what started out as a small white dot now covers large parts of his body.
‘I would put makeup on my hands’
He said: “It was more recently that it started becoming more of an issue for me, being on a national television show sporting patches of pure white skin will obviously be picked up on by viewers.”
“I would put makeup on my hands, being a chef there were frequent close up shots of my hands so I wanted to cover that.”
But when his vitiligo got worse, he was forced to address it. Dean was faced with a choice – should he continue to hide and cover up or speak out?
“When I started to develop patches on my face and neck I did wonder if this in some way was going to affect me career wise. Especially with these much younger, better looking chaps coming up through the ranks,” he said.
“I had a choice to make, I either spend time covering up, cover the patches of affected skin every time I appeared on TV, or I come clean and talk about it.”
(Image: Sum Art Photography)
So Dean decided to open up about his condition on social media and had photos taken showing his vitiligo.
He started to write a regular blog which helped him and others. Spreading awareness of the condition was important but it had wider implications too. He said: “There were two messages I wanted to convey. Firstly, to try to make people stop and think before they hit that send button on a tweet.
“Before you choose to chuck out random comments regarding someone’s appearance, try and get the whole story first, it may not be vitiligo or any related skin condition, but all of us and I mean ALL of us have insecurities,” he added.
The second driver for Dean to speak out was to use his position in the public eye to encourage self acceptance and self love. Vitiligo is not dangerous, but because it’s so visible it can drastically have an impact on mental health .
Around 57% of people experience some form of depression, and 68% a social phobia, so its impact can be significant. It can stop people from wanting to do certain things which might reveal their skin and can affect their confidence and social life, such as going for a job, or being on a date.
Dean said: “Because of this it’s important for me to get the message out to be proud of who you are. I’m not saying it’s easy, its not, but a contented heart makes for a contented life.
“We are all individual, start to love your so-called flaws because we are only here for a short time. You could be spending so much of your time and energy on things which don’t really matter, and before you know it life has passed you by.”
Doing the online blog opened up a whole new world for Dean, which was something he was surprised about. Unaware of the global community of vitiligo he soon tapped into a wider movement and didn’t need to experience this alone anymore.
Things to do to minimise Vitiligo
Sun protection – cover up with sun protective clothing and 50+ sunscreen
Take a vitamin D supplement
Minimise skin injury – a cut, graze or scratch can lead to a new patch of vitiligo
Cosmetic camouflage can disguise vitiligo
He said: “To be honest I didn’t even know anyone else who had this, so it was always difficult to share.
“But social media was a god send. I know it can be negative and I had a few comments at first, but more than anything it connected me to an online community where I’ve made many friends, and we all support each other.
“Just by following the vitiligo hashtag, being around people who seemed to love their skin regardless, was a great help,” he added.
A series of media appearances, including a BBC 3 documentary and a ground breaking interview on Lorraine, was a step change as he shared his journey in front of the whole nation.
‘I’m embracing the fact it makes me different’
Dean is now in the best place he has ever been and is a proud ambassador for vitiligo. But he still has days when it can be tough, he said; “I hid mine for years due to not wanting to stand out from the pack. I grew beards to cover my face, and shied away from confronting it.
“But I no longer cover my hands and only on the odd occasion do I cover up on my face.
“I’m definitely in a different place, it’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I’m embracing the fact it makes me different.
“I receive lots of messages asking for advice, and I feel very privileged to be able to offer my point of view, and offer help where I can,” he added.
If vitiligo is affecting your mental health there is help available to support with this. You can ask your GP to refer you to IAPT services which provide counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), you can also self-refer to IAPT online.