“Speaking of vitiligo…” …and the double standard in Michael Jackson’s case
The recent discovery of a blog post of a vitiligo expert on the vitiligo blog of UMASS Medical School gives us the opportunity to once again clarify a few things regarding the skin disease Michael Jackson had and to explain why this is still necessary.
On January 18, 2016, Dr. John E. Harris apparently still felt the need to ask: „Did Michael Jackson have vitiligo?“ I don’t know what prompted him to write this post, but it seems he still saw the doubt around him and felt he needed to set the record straight. And he did!
Dr. Harris is a board certified dermatologist who specializes in vitiligo and in diagnosing and offering treatment for patients in the Vitiligo Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Hospital, Division of Dermatology.
In this post he clearly and in easy words explained once again that Jackson indeed did have vitiligo, he explained the apparent development process of the disease as well as the treatment with Benoquin = Monobenzone in Jackson’s case.
Here is the text:
Did Michael Jackson have vitiligo?
Believe it or not, among the most commonly searched terms with vitiligo on Google Search is Michael Jackson. That’s probably because he is the most famous person to have claimed to suffer from vitiligo, and the disease is rumored to be responsible for a number of his well-known quirks, like wearing a single white glove. But possibly the most controversial discussion about Michael Jackson is the fact that his skin seemed to get lighter over time, and he was accused of using a bleaching treatment on his skin. That, combined with multiple plastic surgeries that changed a number of his features (nose, chin, etc), suggested that he wanted to look less like himself, and more like someone else – some have said he “wanted to look white”. The discussion is complicated, as was his life, but I think there are a few things that I can clear up in this post.
Michael Jackson was undoubtedly an incredibly talented performer, maybe one of the best in history. I remember seeing his music video Thriller, and being utterly amazed at just how innovative he was, not to mention a great singer, songwriter, and dancer. His fame began as a young child (6 years old) when he sang with his brothers in the Jackson Five, and so he spent almost his entire life in the public eye. That is not easy for anyone, but imagine him as a young man, maybe the most famous person on earth, when white spots started to appear on his skin, including his hands and face. He was likely embarrassed and ashamed (like many people with vitiligo who AREN’T constantly on camera for the world to see), and probably did not know exactly what was happening. And if he did get diagnosed early, his doctor wouldn’t be able to tell him how extensive it would become, or whether he would be able to successfully hide it with clothing and makeup.
First, we know that Michael Jackson stated that he had vitiligo, although this was not until many years after rumors were flying about his “turning white” and his many surgeries. The best-known occasion on which he addressed his vitiligo was during an interview with Oprah on her show in 1993. He said that his skin started to change sometime after Thriller, which was released in 1982, so he was about 24 years old when it started, and he had progressed for about 10 years at the point of the interview. He was a 24-year old man, one of the most famous people on earth for his music, dancing, and music videos, and he acquired a disease that started to change his appearance and was very difficult to hide. I have met and treated many patients with vitiligo, and I can tell you that for many, even those who are not public icons, it is devastating. They often become the focus of attention in any public place, getting stared at, stopped and asked questions (“did you get burned?” is a common one), and cashiers even refuse to take money from their hands. Michael Jackson, the self-proclaimed perfectionist who was never happy with his music or his appearance (he said he hated to look in the mirror and tried not to), must have been very self-conscious about the white spots appearing on his skin.
The single white glove made its appearance in 1983 (along with his signature “moonwalk” dance move), which was right after Thriller was released and when he said his vitiligo started. His new onset vitiligo may have been the reason for starting to wear the glove – while the disease typically affects both sides of the body, it can begin in a small area on one side, like the hand. But the single glove was switched between hands over time, and his costumer said that it was used so the audience could track his quick hand moves. He wore makeup to help cover up the spots, a point that he made in the Oprah interview. But over time and certainly by the time of the interview, he did not have the telltale white spots of vitiligo, he just appeared completely white, which was a big difference from earlier photos in which he had black skin. Could vitiligo do THAT? What about the bleaching cream that many accused him of using in order to “look more white”?
Yes, vitiligo can remove most, if not all, of the pigment in someone’s skin, such that they have no skin color. However that is very rare, and it usually takes many years to do this, with spots appearing during the process. So it’s not likely that vitiligo alone was responsible for his significant transformation in skin color. There is a treatment, though, that can remove the remaining pigment in someone’s skin if they have vitiligo. The treatment is a skin cream called monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone (monobenzone, or Benoquin), and it is, in fact, the only FDA-approved treatment for vitiligo. But in most cases, using this cream doesn’t work unless you have vitiligo, so it is not as simple as someone “wanting to look white” and using the cream. It is a bona-fide vitiligo treatment, approved by the FDA, for people who would rather remove their remaining pigment than continue to look spotted. I have prescribed this for vitiligo patients, and they have always been happy with the results. So it is not too surprising that Michael Jackson would use Benoquin to treat his vitiligo, and this is why he went from having clearly black skin to very white skin. In fact, Oprah commented in an interview after Michael Jackson’s death that he had no pigment in the skin of his hands, that they were essentially translucent. Benoquin would do that, and could do it relatively quickly, after about 12 months of use. From available pictures of Michael Jackson, his skin color seemed to change significantly sometime in the late 1980’s, which would make sense if he was diagnosed in the early 80’s, tried to treat it for a while, and then decided to go the other way and use Benoquin.
Did Michael Jackson have vitiligo? After his death, his autopsy report stated that there were “patches of light and dark pigmented areas” on examination of his skin, and vitiligo was listed as a diagnosis in his medical history. In addition, a tube of Benoquin 20% cream was noted among his medications, revealing that he did use this FDA-approved treatment for vitiligo. He also had a tube of BQ/KA/RA (Benoquin 8%, Kojic acid 1%, and retinoic acid 0.025%), another effective formulation for Benoquin, as well as hydroquinone 8% lotion (which would help to lighten any remaining pigment), and UVA Anthelios XL sunscreen, a good idea for anyone with vitiligo, especially if they had depigmented their skin. Microscopic examination of his skin revealed a lack of pigment and reduced number of melanocytes, which is most consistent with vitiligo, with or without the use of Benoquin, and vitiligo was the official diagnosis on the report. Rare photos of him when his skin was exposed appear to show his depigmented skin, and one (above) shows his largely depigmented arms with some remaining spots of pigment.
So there is no question that Michael Jackson had vitiligo, by his own admission and according to his autopsy after his death. He did appear to use Benoquin to help depigment his skin, but not because he “wanted to be white”, but as an FDA-approved treatment for his vitiligo. He was a remarkable man who was a self-proclaimed perfectionist who was undoubtedly stressed by his vitiligo and visibility, and this may have been an important factor in his avoidance of the public later in life, his use of drugs (which was ultimately the cause of his death), and his frustration about the press’s invasion into his private life. Did he have vitiligo? Yes, but he’s probably not a great example of what it looks like to have the disease, since he was very good at covering it up and, eventually, treated his condition with the skin depigmenting cream Benoquin. As with many of my patients with vitiligo, I hurt for him, and hope that someday people will recognize the disease, its effect on those who suffer from it, and have sympathy for them. I also hope that someday we will have better treatments and, eventually a cure, for patients who seek my help.
In July 2009, after Michael Jackson had died, a lot of articles appeared about his “self-hatred” and “self-loathing”, his “numerous plastic surgeries” and his “skin-bleaching” because he “didn’t want to be black” etc. – written by people who had no idea of the person and of his health conditions. They just judged him without knowing anything – as it was customary with his person.
Then, by the end of 2009, when the autopsy report confirmed his vitiligo, this kind of articles may have become less, but many still ignored this fact. The troubling thing is that today – after 6 years of much more available information – we still can find articles, posts, comments and insinuations about Jackson’s vitiligo which clearly show the double standard many people still look at this matter. Meanwhile the disease has become more known and the affected persons are much more open about it. We all have seen the photos of the model Winnie Harlow who became famous by her participation in „America’s next top model“.
Other vitiligo cases are well accepted in public and even admired and appreciated by many people.
This website made a great contribution to raise the level of awareness for the disease.
But when it comes to Michael Jackson the disease is still not regarded as a serious condition which has severe effects and needs treatment, especially in his extraordinary case as a celebrity. Meanwhile most journalists acknowledge that he had the disease. But now they often either reduce the disease to a minor condition – a harmless „skin condition that produces blotches“, or they claim he nevertheless bleached – unnecessarily – the rest of his skin or even induced the disease himself.
I am talking of articles that were written after the autopsy report was made public. You would think that writers do some research for their writings and especially about vitiligo, when the autopsy report became available to everybody. But apparently some authors still don’t regard this as a fact worth to be examined or even mentioned.
In March 2010 a certain Professor Gershom Williams wrote an article in “The Journal of Pan African Studies” (to read the whole text please open the pdf) in which he talked about “Color complex and the politics of white supremacy” and for which he used Michael Jackson as an example. Mr. Williams is a historian and lecturer and I am sure he is a very knowledgeable expert on African American and United States history as well as the enslavement heritage and the impact of white supremacy, but he is certainly not an expert on Michael Jackson. Here some quotes from his article:
“The so-called ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson (MJ), as we all know, later in his adult life, underwent numerous cosmetic facial surgeries and skin lightening procedures that literally transformed and altered his appearance.”
And he goes on:
“What were the root causes for MJ’s seemingly anti-Black attitude and apparent acceptance of pro-White aesthetics and standards of attractiveness?
With all of his personal success, fame, fortune and power of influence across our global village, why would he reject and sacrifice his beautiful Black skin and features and surrender his Black racial identity?”
As the “most visible symptoms” for a “Post Trauma Slavery Disorder” Williams mentions among others the use of skin lightening/bleaching creams.
And at the end of his article he says:
“Black self-determination, Black pride, identity and self esteem were seemingly repressed in Michael Jackson’s life experiences. It is unfortunate for too many of us, that when we think that we have finally overcome and transcended racial oppression, we foolishly reject and abandon our cultural roots. And as soon as we become rich and famous, we think that it’s ok to not sustain and maintain Afrocentric art, culture and information in our lives.
I firmly believe that a Black person, even one born and nurtured in Gary, Indiana like Michael Jackson, who does not read, study and analyze the critical writings of W.E.B. Dubois, Marcus Garvey, Carter G. Woodson, Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz), Frantz Fanon, bell hooks, Frances Cress Welsing and other anti-hegemonic authors will always be in the dangerous position of being intellectually colonized by the political philosophy of White supremacy.”
Williams G. Michael Jackson: Color Complex and the Politics of White Supremacy
The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.3, no.7, March 2010, p. 106-112
Perhaps there is some truth in Prof. Williams’ claim that white supremacy caused some blacks to “surrender their racial identity”, but I don’t think this is true for Michael Jackson – on the contrary: I think Williams’ assessment of Jackson is gravely mistaken. And I would expect from an author that he researches the object of his “study” to learn the basic facts about him – which include that the man had vitiligo which he treated with a prescribed FDA-approved medication that evened out his skin color, and not with a “bleaching cream” some colored people may use for cosmetic skin lightening.
Not to mention that he would have learned that Michael was an avid reader and actually may have read some of the writings Williams mentions.
It is significant that the References at the end of this article do not include any source about Michael Jackson himself.
There is another example of an awful and disrespectful statement that a writer with the name Bill Wyman made in his highly biased article in The New Yorker in December 2012:
„In 1986, however, when Jackson learned that he had vitiligo, a skin condition that produces blotches on the body, his response was to bleach his skin and pancake his face with white makeup. His infantile voice, androgynous manner, ever-whitening skin, and de-Africanized features and hair became a grotesque literalization of the crossover aesthetic.“
The article as a whole is appalling and full of lies, but right now we are focused on the vitiligo statement. The author could have researched the disease and the possible therapies, he could have examined the development in Michael’s case, but it’s obvious he didn’t care for it, and I wonder if he had written in the same disrespectful way about another person suffering from Vitiligo. What is not recognized by the author, is that “skin-bleaching” in a vitiligo case is something completely different than in a case of someone who just wants to obtain a lighter skin. It is actually not “skin-bleaching”, but “depigmentation”. We will see this later in this post.
On February 4, 2016, three weeks after the blog post of Dr. John E. Harris was written, an article of a certain Mr. Anthony L. Hall (“a Bahamian native with an international law practice in Washington, D.C.”, who BTW has a long list of biased articles on MJ) was published as a response to the widely discussed “road trip story” that would be made into a film comedy with a white actor playing Michael Jackson. This disgusting and completely untruthful post still talks about MJ’s “self-hate” and is based on old allegations without proof. He even goes as far as to talk about “psychological defects” of MJ and a “psychological impact” on his children. I want to spare our readers all of the disgusting outpourings of this writer, just post a few quotes to illustrate the ignorance still existing today:
“‘Black and proud’?
By contrast, Michael maintained the charade of saying, “I’m Black and I’m proud.” He never looked more dishonest, if not delusional, than when he said that during a famous 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah questioned him about reports that he wanted a White child to play his younger self in a Pepsi commercial. Michael protested that the very thought of this was “stupid … ridiculous … horrifying … crazy.”
He protested too much, methinks. Not least because those words unwittingly described the racial metamorphosis Michael was undergoing at the time, which would soon see him get “Whiter than White” and even produce White children to play his own in real life.
Sociologists have proffered the notion of “complex personhood” to explain the psychopathology of Blacks bleaching themselves White. But, no matter how nuanced or complicated the psychology that causes this pathology, there’s no denying the racial abnegation involved.”
He goes on:
“Meanwhile, MLK famously preached that people should “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Michael famously sang that “it don’t matter if you’re Black or White.”
It mattered to him
He practically compelled us to judge him not by the content of his character, but by the color of his (bleached) skin. Whether you’re Black or White has always mattered. And we did not need #BlackLivesMatter or #OscarsSoWhite to throw this into stark relief.”
Nowhere in his article Mr. Hall mentions vitiligo and the autopsy report – and this almost 7 years after Jackson’s death.
It is shocking to see this kind of dumb, unfounded writings still today. What do these authors think? Do they think it is legitimate to write something about a person without any research and proof? That accusations and allegations don’t need to be substantiated? Or do they regard it legitimate only in Michael Jackson’s case? Because it was done to him almost his entire life?
I would encourage our readers to leave comments on the site of Hall’s article.
Now let’s go back to Dr. Harris’ post. Two aspects in it stood out for me especially in this paragraph:
„There is a treatment, though, that can remove the remaining pigment in someone’s skin if they have vitiligo. The treatment is a skin cream called monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone (monobenzone, or Benoquin), and it is, in fact, the only FDA-approved treatment for vitiligo. But in most cases, using this cream doesn’t work unless you have vitiligo, so it is not as simple as someone “wanting to look white” and using the cream. It is a bona-fide vitiligo treatment, approved by the FDA, for people who would rather remove their remaining pigment than continue to look spotted. I have prescribed this for vitiligo patients, and they have always been happy with the results. So it is not too surprising that Michael Jackson would use Benoquin to treat his vitiligo, and this is why he went from having clearly black skin to very white skin.“
So he says that
1. Benoquin or MBEH (monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone) is „the only FDA-approved treatment for vitiligo“, and
2. „the cream doesn’t work unless you have vitiligo“
To say it in plain words:
Michael used the only FDA-approved treatment for vitiligo (for cases with more than 50% coverage) which means he didn’t use any illegal or unsuitable or inadequate substance for his vitiligo.
And at the same time he used medication that can only be used by vitiligo patients and not by someone who just wants to get a lighter skin.
To back up that statement I did some further research into the Monobenzone treatment as well as the justification for this treatment, and I looked for scientific publications in medical journals to see what is written by experts. I found numerous case studies as well as articles on this subject that also could have been found by any author writing about Michael Jackson.
Some of the publications are not available for free, but my work at a university hospital helped me to get access to these publications without payment.
One thing became clear from these articles: Vitiligo is regarded as a serious disease with far-reaching emotional effects which needs individual treatment to improve the patient’s quality of life.
This free article of 2012 with the title “Successful treatment of extensive Vitiligo with Monobenzone” is a case report by an expert team at St. Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim, Norway, and explains the impact of vitiligo on patients as follows:
“The undesirable aesthetic properties of vitiligo, especially facial, may result in significant negative psychological effects, notably a rate of depression twice that of the general population. In some cultures, vitiligo is not well understood. The depigmentation of vitiligo is thought to result from sexually transmitted infections, or of leprosy, and can have a damaging effect on educational, social, and employment opportunities. Patients may feel embarrassed or ashamed of such a visible disorder. Studies have shown that vitiligo is associated with a greater burden of disease to patients, especially those in populations with darker skin. Therefore, treatment, although not medically necessary, provides large psychological gains for the patient, increasing their quality of life.”
They go on:
“Due to the difficulties with repigmentation, it is often easier to achieve depigmentation, especially when vitiligo affects more than 50 percent of the body. It is, however, a more aggressive approach and its use is considered on an individual basis because of the irreversible changes and increased sensitivity to sunburn of the treated areas. […] Monobenzone (monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone, MBEH) is usually the treatment of choice of depigmentation therapy for severe cases of vitiligo, and MBEH is usually used in concentrations of 20 to 40 percent to achieve the desired permanent depigmentation.”
Regarding side effects of the MBEH (= Benoquin) treatment they say:
“Side effects of MBEH include skin irritation, contact dermatitis, ocular side effects, exogenous ochronosis, and difficulties in predicting response. There can be repigmentation because of sun exposure or rarely as a reaction to the drug. Due to these side effects, MBEH treatment can be somewhat controversial, and its use has been limited in some countries, such as the Netherlands, which has restricted it since 1990. MBEH has been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration since 1952 for permanent depigmentation of extensive vitiligo.”
The conclusion of the specialist team is:
“This case highlights the importance of timely aggressive treatment of vitiligo and its effect on the patient’s quality of life. Physicians should not have to shy away from prescribing the more potent treatments, due to the significant negative psychosocial impact vitiligo can have. A generally accepted psychosocial questionnaire and a modern study investigating the rates of side effects of MBEH would allow the development of a patient benefit-risk index, which could help both patients and physicians determine if MBEH treatment is appropriate for their individual cases.”
Rordam OM et al. Successful Treatment of Extensive Vitiligo with Monobenzone.
J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012 Dec; 5(12): 36–39.
There is another interesting article of 1997, which goes much more into detail about the emotional impact of vitiligo. It was published by doctors of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Florence, Italy, and they called the premise of their article: “The skin as a mirror”. Unfortunately it is not available for free, but I can provide a few quotes.
According to the Italian dermatologists vitiligo can be accompanied by the following conditions:
“Sometimes there are associated eye abnormalities, autoantibodies, and a high incidence of associated disorders, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, diabetes mellitus, , pernicious anemia, Addison’s disease, myasthenia gravis, lupus erythematosus, Crohn’s disease, scleroderma, alopecia areata, atopic dermatitis, and biliary cirrhosis. Many of these disorders have been reported to be associated with psychological problems.”
As to the pathogenesis of the disease, the authors say:
“To date, the etiology and pathogenesis are still unknown, although there have been reports of several precipitating factors, such as severe sunburn, repeated trauma, and emotional stress (vitiligo has been reported to be more frequent during wars, after bombing attacks). […] Other workers calculated that 33% of their cases of vitiligo could be considered emotionally triggered […].”
…and they tell this interesting case of a young woman:
“A case was reported by an investigator concerning a pretty 22-year-old young woman, married with a child, who was admitted to hospital because she was afraid that her skin lesions would enlarge. She presented vitiligo localized on her right hand and three little spots on her breast and abdomen. A psychologically oriented interview provided evidence (not noted by her previously) that her lesions were localized in the same points where her father presented war wounds, making evident a process of identification.”
They go on:
“While vitiligo occurs worldwide and affects all races, it is particularly a problem in persons whose normal skin color is dark (skin phototypes V and VI), because of the strong contrast of brown and black skin with the chalk-white color of the vitiligo macules. White persons who can acquire a deep tan (skin type IV) also have a more serious problem of disfigurement. For these people, vitiligo can be a major medical tragedy, and not simply a cosmetic disorder. Therefore, although vitiligo is painless and not associated with shedding scales of skin, such as occurs in psoriasis, it can be a devastating disease. The contrast of the normally colored skin and the white spots gives these affected people a harlequin or leopard-like appearance that can limit their potential for leading normal lives in terms of marriage, family, friendship, and even work. It is no wonder that patients with vitiligo have been found to suffer from feelings of inferiority, to become aggressive, to feel a sense of shame, and sometimes to become secluded and resentful.”
Hautmann G, Panconesi E. Vitiligo: A psychologically influenced and influencing disease.
Clinics in Dermatology, Volume 15, Issue 6, November–December 1997, Pages 879–890
The authors present another example of a female vitiligo patient who wrote a letter in which she described the effects of vitiligo on her life with words like these:
“I feel as though life stopped somewhere around age 23 or so for me.”
“I am not enjoying life the way it was meant to be. I am simply existing.”
“I feel like I should join the circus as one of their freak acts. They have the snake man, an albino lady, a fat lady, now what they need is the bleach lady.”
“I feel like a mistake.”
“At least fully dressed, with long pants and long-sleeved shirts, I look almost like one of you humans. To be rid of vitiligo would be like being reborn for me, to be normal and happy.”
The authors recommend a “close collaboration between the nonpsychiatric medical staff and the psychiatrist. The purpose is to teach the nonpsychiatric physician to include psychosocial variables in patient-care programs and enable the physician to deal with patients directly in making an integrative diagnosis.”
Their last sentence is: “Never abandon the patient or refer him or her coldly, never ‘wash your hands’ of the patient.” (I remember similar words said by doctors in the Murray trial.)
This article of 2001 of dermatologists at Yale Medical School in the US gives similar information:
“Eventually it became clear that application of MBEH to one site, for example, the face, could be associated with a loss of pigment at a distant site, for example, the arms.”
“As with other treatment modalities, the first step in depigmentation therapy is to choose the right patient. An individual with widespread extensive vitiligo where the probability of cosmetically significant repigmentation is nonexistent represents an excellent candidate.”
“Strict limitation of sun exposure via physical barriers and high-SPF sunscreens is essential following depigmentation therapy, not only to avoid burns but to avoid areas of perifollicular repigmentation.”
“For the patient with widespread vitiligo, depigmentation therapy represents a viable treatment option. The most commonly used therapy is topical MBEH, and currently it is the only medication that is FDA-approved for this indication.”
Bolognia JL et al. Depigmentation therapy.
Dermatologic Therapy, Volume 14, Issue 1, pages 29–34, January 2001
As we saw from these case studies that Vitiligo patients deserve adequate care and treatment which sometimes requires depigmentation, let’s look once more into the monobenzone/Benoquin = MBEH treatment. Dr. Harris clearly said that Benoquin is only approved for Vitiligo patients and is of no help to people who want to lighten their skin for cosmetic reasons. I think this is the main factor many writers or commenters don’t (want to) understand in Jackson’s case. The Norwegian doctors above already explained some of the side effects of administering Benoquin which are already serious enough for persons with normal skin when they use the cream (skin irritation, contact dermatitis, ocular side effects, exogenous ochronosis, difficulties in predicting response).
But I think the biggest danger for using MBEH on normal skin is its radical and permanent effect of destroying the melanocytes completely and permanently, making the skin not lighter, but snow-white, and making its effects irreversible and erratic. Therefore Benoquin is contraindicated for all skin conditions or cosmetic procedures except Vitiligo.
Whichever information site you go to, they all warn explicitly of using Monobenzone for anything other than vitiligo:
„Monobenzone is used to treat the uneven appearance of the skin due to a loss of skin color (vitiligo). It works by permanently removing color from normal skin located around skin with vitiligo. This will help to make the appearance of the skin more even.
Do not use this drug to treat other skin discoloration problems (“sun spots,” “age spots,” freckles, skin discoloration caused by hormone medicine, perfumes, pregnancy, or skin trauma). Monobenzone is not a mild cosmetic bleach. Because it causes a permanent discoloration of the skin, it may not be the right treatment for these other skin conditions.”
“Benoquin Cream 20% contains a potent depigmenting agent and is not a cosmetic skin bleach. Use of Benoquin Cream 20% is contraindicated in any conditions other than disseminated vitiligo. Benoquin Cream 20% frequently produces irreversible depigmentation, and it must not be used as a substitute for hydroquinone.”
There are more dangers from depigmentation by Benoquin, like ultraviolet damage and sunburns, unpredictable effects like repigmentation, risks from skin-to-skin contact, dry skin, itching, rash etc.
“The entire monobenzone therapy usually takes 1 – 2 years and may even take longer. The general advice is not to apply monobenzone to every part of the body at once. This is because it is usual for depigmentation to occur in another part of the body different from where monobenzone is applied.
Other precautions to take including avoiding skin-to-skin contact for at least 2 hours after application. Contact with the eyes and mucosal surfaces should be avoided. Therefore, bed time application of monobenzone is not recommended.
When the 20% strength produces unsatisfactory results, 30% and 40% monobenzone should be used.
Lastly, since depigmentation stops the production of melanin, the skin is placed at greater risks of ultraviolet damage including sunburns. Therefore, sunscreens should always be worn over depigmented areas of the skin.”
“Potential side effects are dry skin, itching, or a rash. Because of the possibility of these side effects, it is not recommended to use monobenzone on the face. This medication has a systemic effect, so even areas where it is not applied will still depigment. Since no pigment will be left in the skin, people who have depigmented must be very cautious about sun exposure due to the risk of burning.” https://www.vitiligosupport.org/treatments_and_research/depigmentation.cfm
This site is obviously an information site for people interested in “objective info on safe & effective skin lightening”. Even this site is very serious and detailed with the advice to NOT use Monobenzone for skin-bleaching:
“If you’re considering using monobenzone to achieve a lighter complexion – stop. If you have already started using monobenzone and you do not have vitiligo, stop immediately.
(Did that grab your attention? I hope it did!)
Of all the chemicals that bleach the skin, monobenzone is the worst thing anyone with normal skin can use. And by ‘normal skin’, I mean the skin of someone without vitiligo.”
“In vitiligo sufferers, monobenzone use may lead to pigment-free skin within 1 to 2 years. However, monobenzone has unpredictable effects, and even vitiligo sufferers being treated with monobenzone by their doctors have difficulty maintaining their even and white color. Spots of pigmentation may reappear after several years because of the follicular reservoirs that can produce melanin.
Michael Jackson (rest in peace), was the world’s most famous person with vitiligo. Yet, even after what was probably years of intense monobenzone treatment with the best doctors available to him and all the resources he had available, he still had to live under a veil of make-up and gloves. It is important to realize that even for vitiligo sufferers being treated with monobenzone by their doctors, make-up and other ways of camouflaging the skin often become a way of life, as patches of color may remain resistant to depigmentation.”
“Unlike skin lightening creams which only lighten the areas it is applied to, monobenzone applied anywhere on the body will lead to white patches at different areas. For example, if you applied monobenzone on your face, you could develop permanent white patches and streaks on your arms, legs and torso as well.”
And this describes the danger for people who use Benoquin without having vitiligo:
• Within one to two years, the skin may start to repigment itself
While this repigmentation may happen to vitiligo sufferers as well, it occurs sooner and more aggressively in people with normal skin. This is because vitiligo sufferers’ immune systems are constantly attacking their own pigment cells. There is no such action in people with normal skin. With a fully-functioning immune system, melanocytes will become active again. Spots and patches of pigmentation will start to appear over previously white skin, leading to a patchy appearance.
• If the skin does not repigment, expect a lifetime of zero sun protection
Because melanin offers sun protection, completely depigmented skin which has no melanin offers zero sun protection. Vitiligo sufferers who have successfully depigmented wear hats, long sleeves and long pants outdoors all the time to protect themselves from sun damage. Even on cloudy days, sunscreens with broad coverage are a must.
I think from all this information it became clear why Monobenzone or Benoquin is not usable by healthy people who just intend to lighten their skin. There are too many serious risks, and the effects of MBEH application are different for people without vitiligo than for vitiligo sufferers. The use of MBEH has to take place under the supervision of a doctor. With all the unpredictability of the side effects and risks and dangers by using MBEH, it is implausible that Michael would have used the cream to just whiten his skin on a whim. He would have risked his health and his whole appearance because his look would have been unpredictable. The use of MBEH is incalculable, or “bona fide”, as Dr. Harris called it.
But as for vitiligo sufferers we need to understand:
“Despite these negative side effects, its [the cream’s] potential cosmetic and psychosocial benefits are significant and should always be taken into consideration when treating these patients, who may feel distressed and stigmatized by it. A quick and effective treatment is important to ease the burden of disease from these patients and increase their quality of life.”
So in summary, Michael Jackson had a documented vitiligo and used approved medication for the treatment of it. The disease has serious effects which impair the quality of life for the patients, so in serious cases a treatment in form of depigmentation can be necessary. For this depigmentation (not skin-bleaching) scientists found a depigmentation agent (Monobenzone = MBEH = Benoquin) which became the only FDA-approved depigmentation cream for vitiligo patients – and for nobody else. Now can anybody tell me what’s so inappropriate about Michael Jackson using this medication for his disfiguring disease? Especially when he was the most famous person on earth, an entertainer, who was permanently in the public eye?
Furthermore, do these people who accuse Michael Jackson of “hating his race” want to say that the depigmentation therapy is reserved for whites? Because black people “deny their race” when using the therapy? Hence, they seem to be the ones who deny a black man the right to use the same medication as a white person and thus make a therapy a privilege for whites! Instead of accusing the black person suffering from vitiligo of “self-hate” and “racial abnegation” they should leave him the same right to choose the same medication that white patients can use with much less attention, just because the difference is not so apparent. Did they ever think about that?
Finally, I would like to say thank you to Dr. Harris who with his post became a voice for Michael and an authority for us to refer to.