Tattoos versus Vitiligo

In early 2007 I became very ill and started to lose a lot of hair. I would go running and after I’d hit the 3 mile target I’d feel drained and tired rather than energetic, all I wanted to do was sleep. Friends and colleagues commented on my unhealthy weight loss which baffled me, because I often rewarded my runs with copious amounts of carbs!!! My energy levels dropped and I continued to battle this mysterious illness that numerous visits to the GP had failed to diagnose. I started to lose enthusiasm for everything. I decided to hunt down an endocrinologist who listens to me intently and congratulates me for my knowledge of my own body ! He sent me off for various tests, including an endoscopy with a stomach biopsy and I was finally diagnosed with Coeliacs disease, basically I was poisoning my own body with gluten.
6 months after my diagnosis and abstaining from gluten religiously, I discovered a white patch of skin on my stomach and did not think much of it. As time passed, the patch became two patches and then three. I revisited the endocrinologist who told me the patches were a side effect of my auto immune condition coeliac, and if I continued abstaining from gluten, it would clear up.

Vitiligo is an autoimmune condition of its own. There is no cure to date and there have been no effective treatments for me yet. It presents in white patches over the body because the skin loses its pigment cells, some small some large. I have been researching this condition for the last 10 years. The Endocrinologist was right, I stopped gluten, my hair grew back and my 3 white patches became dormant for 2 years. Thats the thing with vitiligo, it lays dormant. I often hear people or should I say tattooists say “is it active or inactive” an argument I have had with many in the medical world because I believe I know my body better than anybody else and because I live with it, I am able to monitor its progress or decline and I can certainly see reactions I may or may not have. The medical professionals guess the journey of vitiligo because to date they have no answers, so I have updated them in terms of the behaviour of vitiligo on my own body.

From my experience it is always active, it just lays dormant until you decide to wake it up!
We all know that the skin is the largest organ of the body and it is one organ. Upset it and you will be punished!
Every time you injure your skin, the immune system naturally kicks in to repair the ‘injury.’ All tattooist know that the immune system plays a dominant role in the life of a tattoo and every small injury to the body is always seen by the clever immune system as an ‘injury’ that needs repair. Tattoos trigger the immune system to send white blood cells call macrophages to eat the ‘invaders’ to prevent infection. This response apparently continues through the life of a tattoo. Hence, along with other factors such as sunlight and environmental factors, tattoos fade.

On my 40th birthday, I decided to get a large tattoo. I was excited and a little afraid at the same time. A large trellis of roses along the side of my body and around my thigh. I fell in love with it when I had it done and I still love it today. No regrets, apart from one and a very big one. A few months after my tattoo, I noticed another white patch and then another. Initially I did not connect the two and in fact I did not connect the two for some years. As time went on, I started to live with these white patches that had appeared over my body and seemed to be growing in numbers. I have religiously stuck to a gluten free diet because I don’t want to die of malnutrition, a consequence of ignoring coeliacs disease.
Vitiligo has symmetry. It generally appears on both sides of the body in almost exact places. I started to connect the tattoo and my vitiligo when I tried some skin needling. I tried it on the back of my hand at first and then my face. I loved the treatment but after a month the patches appeared on those areas and with rage, grew larger and larger.
I dug into my research books yet again and discovered that I was creating injury to my body and therefore my immune system was being forced into overdrive. Each time I had done this, the vitiligo patches grew in abundance. It made sense to me and I have avoided any treatments that break the skin since, whether by needle or otherwise.

Many artists are offended when you tell them not to camouflage vitiligo. They shout from their soap box about the years they’ve been tattooing and their level of skill, this is never questioned! An autoimmune condition rarely works alone and if a client has one they most likely have two, its just how it seems to work. I have two unfortunately, Coeliacs and Vitiligo. Some people have thyroid disease and diabetes , etc.
My point to these artists is this:- your skill is commendable, but look beyond what you are doing because you may camouflage a white patch with great skill for your client and they will be ecstatic with the results. You may create an art piece that deserves recognition like Monet or Van Gogh, but see your client in a years time when your masterpiece has created another patch that has appeared somewhere else and larger and know that you may have caused that by working on them in the first place. They will never connect the two and neither will you unless you are informed. The area you have worked on may look great and stay looking great but the rest of the ‘organ’ is very angry that you dared to take a needle to that skin!
So you have a moral responsibility to inform your clients of the consequences and manage their expectations honestly with integrity and hopefully they will see sense and leave well alone. Our work is not about the money, yes it is a bonus, but we artists have the ability to give our clients confidence and life changing treatments but these treatments must change lives for the better. I say with my hand on my heart, I love what I do. I love the change and liberation a lot of my clients feel when they leave my clinic, but I will turn away as many as I do if it means prevention of far worse than they walked in with. I care. I truly care.

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