Tampa doctor hoping to help vitiligo patients regain skin color

Local News

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A new treatment for those with vitiligo in the Tampa Bay area could be on the way.  

The autoimmune condition, which causes the loss of skin color, effects Plant City native Tonja Johnson.  

“I am aggressively losing color. So my identity, what makes me a black woman, I am losing that,” said Johnson. 

Johnson discovered a small white spot on her left thigh back in 2011 and has now lost over 75% of her color. She says the diagnosis was devastating. 

“I went to the dermatologist and they confirmed it was vitiligo. My first reaction was oh my gosh, this is a death sentence. Why do I have this?” she recalled. “You start to freak out and you get scared and you are looking around and there is no one else that has this issue. So it makes it hard for you as a person.” 

While vitiligo causes the loss of pigmentation in the skin, it’s not known to be fatal.  

In recent years, vitiligo has gained more attention because of celebrities like supermodel Winnie Harlow, actor Jon Hamm, comedian Joe Rogan and the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. 

Michael Jackson, who at 13 is the youngest member of the Jackson Five singing group, displays some of the cards and letters he receives from fans at his home in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Encino, Ca., in1972. (AP Photo)

“It is devastating to lose color. People with darker skin tones feel like they are losing a part of their identity. In some cultures, it is seen as a curse. Therefore, it is important to help people regain their identity and their pigment and their normal skin color,” said Dr. Seth Forman, a Tampa dermatologist

Dr. Forman currently uses various treatments for patients with vitiligo including phototherapy but believes there is a breakthrough in treatment that could possibly reverse the effects of vitiligo. 

“We are trying to help people re-pigment their skin and we are trying some of these new investigational products and one of them is a topical therapy,” said Dr. Forman. 

Dr. Foreman is now looking for those in the Tampa Bay area with the disease to participate in his upcoming clinical trial.  

As for Johnson, she tells 8 On Your Side she has made peace with her disease and will not pursue further treatment. Instead, Johnson has founded a vitiligo support group – Beautifully Unblemished. 

“I think starting the support group is what really helped me to embrace it and to figure out who I am now,” said Johnson.  

By connecting with others who have learned to love the skin they’re in, Johnson has also regained a new sense of self. 

“I am loved, whether I have blotches on my skin or I have my beautiful black skin. I am still a beautiful black woman.” 

To learn how you can sign-up for Dr. Forman’s clinical trial, please call 813-264-2155. 

For more information about Beautifully Unblemished, visit their website here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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