Lee Thomas’ skin is betraying him.
His once brown, even complexion is now mottled with pale patches around his eyes and mouth, along his nose and on his ears; his arms, shoulders and chest are speckled and blotched.
“I’m a black man turning white on television and people can see it,” says Thomas, an anchor and entertainment reporter for the local Fox Broadcasting Company affiliate. “If you’ve watched me over the years, you’ve seen my hands completely change from brown to white.”
Thomas has vitiligo, a disorder in which pigment-making cells are destroyed. White patches appear on different parts of the body, tissues in the mouth and nose, and the retina.
“There is no cause. There is no cure, and it’s very random,” Thomas says. “I could turn all the way white or mostly white.”
As many as 65 million people worldwide have the disorder, including up to 2 million in the United States.
Few people, outside medical professionals and those with the disease, had heard the term “vitiligo” until Michael Jackson revealed in the early 1990s that the disorder was behind his skin turning brown to white.
It’s not fatal, but experts say vitiligo robs people of self-confidence, evokes ridicule and unpleasant stares, and pushes some into unforced seclusion.