‘They said my skin was like a cow’s’: Woman who was bullied about her vitiligo reveals how a tanning treatment improved her condition by 50% – and says she now wants to be a model
- Natalie Ambersley, 33, has suffered with vitiligo since early childhood
- Aspiring model from Essex says taunts once drove her to consider suicide
- A course of Narrowband UVB phototherapy has helped patches to fade
- Now Natalie says: ‘If I could talk to the same bullies, I would laugh at them’
- High profile sufferer Winnie Harlow shot to fame on America’s Next Top Model after being honest about her skin condition
An aspiring model who says she’s spent three decades covering up her vitiligo has opened up about how a course of light treatment has given her a new lease of life.
Natalie Ambersley, 33, from Ilford, Essex, has had to endure taunts since her schooldays about the skin condition which, until undergoing UVB phototherapy, left her feeling so low that she contemplated suicide.
Natalie developed vitiligo when she was just two – which caused pale white patches to develop on her dark skin – and she spent much of her teenage years hiding her condition with clothes and make-up for fear of being bullied.
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Natalie Ambersley, 33, from Ilford, Essex has suffered with the skin condition vitiligo since early childhood and was so upset by taunts about the way her body and face looked she contemplated suicide
Natalie, pictured as a child, with the patches caused by the long-term chronic skin condition obvious on her legs and around her mouth and eyes
‘They said my skin looked like a cow’s’ Natalie’s arm before she had treatment, and right, during the UVB phototherapy which has vastly improved the appearance of the patches
But after spending a year undergoing UVB phototherapy treatment in specialist tanning booths at London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals, Natalie’s pigmentation has been reduced by 50 per cent.
Now the stunning brunette is raising awareness to show diversity is beautiful after defying her tormentors by learning to love her skin.
Natalie, a personal assistant, said: ‘For as long as I can remember people would stare at me, snigger under their breath or make remarks about how my patchy skin made me look like a cow.
‘I became a bit of a recluse and spent too many years wishing I could fade into the background and be known as Natalie instead of ‘Natalie with vitiligo’.
‘At my lowest points I couldn’t see a way out and there were times when I thought I would be better off not being around.
‘Instead of enjoying beach holidays and nights out in dresses like everyone else my age, I would cover myself from head to toe as I felt ashamed of my body and how I looked.
‘Vitiligo completely took over my life and it caused me to lash out and blame the people I love the most when they were the most supportive.’
A future in fashion? Natalie says the year-long treatment has given her the confidence to pursue a career as a model
The 33-year-old used to cover up but says the specialist light therapy, undertaken at London hospitals Guy’s and St Thomas’s, has seen her finally happy to bare her skin
Hard to take: Bullying as a child and throughout her teenage years left Natalie, pictured right, keen to cover up
Support: Natalie, pictured as a child with her mum Susan, and, right, before her treatment began
The condition, which Michael Jackson was thought to have suffered from and Canadian model Winnie Harlow has been praised for being vocal about, affect the cells that produce melanin, the skin’s pigmentation.
Vitiligo affects all races, but may be more noticeable in people with darker skin.
Of discovering the light therapy, Natalie says: ‘I was over the moon with the phototherapy treatment. Vitiligo covered 80 per cent of my body but after spending a year using the UVB tanning booths my patches were reduced to just 30 per cent.
‘I never thought I’d ever consider modelling but I have more confidence than ever before. I’m currently looking into joining a model agency which concentrates on beautiful people with a difference.’
WHAT IS VITILIGO…AND HOW DOES UVB PHOTOTHERAPY HELP?
Natalie’s arm, before her treatment, shows the effect the lack of melanin within her skin has
Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that determines the color of skin, die or stop functioning.
This causes slowly enlarging white patches of irregular shapes to appear on the skin over time.
Vitiligo affects all races, but may be more noticeable in people with darker skin.
The exact cause of the condition is unknown, although many experts believe that it is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys certain cells.
There is no cure and the goal of treatment, which can include ointments and skin grafts, is to stop or slow the progression of pigment loss.
Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, told Femail that Narrowband UVB phototherapy is usually considered ‘gold standard treatment for vitiligo’ and is used in cases where the condition covers more than 20 per cent of the body.
Dr Mahto said: ‘It involves using a very specific wavelength of light (311-312nm) which promotes the pigment producing cells (or melanocytes) to produce colour.
‘Hospital based phototherapy uses a specific part of the the UV spectrum to treat skin disease and the dose is carefully controlled, as over time there is a theoretical risk of developing skin cancer.’
‘Treatment is usually administered 2-3 times per week and continued as long as there is ongoing regimentation.’
Dr Mahto adds that ‘about 65 per cent of people will have some degree of repigmentation but the degree is variable.
‘In 55 per cent of cases, vitiligo will relapse and pigmentation may again be lost within two years.’
Natalie wasn’t born with vitiligo but at the age of two, despite no family history, she was diagnosed with the condition which mainly affects her face, legs, arms and hands.
Over the years Natalie taught herself clever make-up and fake tan camouflage techniques to hide her patchy skin.
Natalie said: ‘Vitiligo has pretty much always affected most parts of my body other than my torso.
‘It’s very unpredictable and the shapes and sizes of the patches can change, especially when I’m under stress.‘If I could talk to the same bullies now I would laugh at them and walk away, nothing they could say would affect me, I’m better than that.’Natalie Ambersley
‘I’ve always been a very shy person which made dating difficult, I’d always try and hide my hands and felt anxious as I didn’t know whether to warn people.
‘I would spend hours applying copious amounts of make-up and fake tan to try and hide who I was.
‘But now I know if people judge me by my skin on first impressions then they aren’t worth my time anyway.’
After receiving treatment for vitiligo for 10 years when she was a child, Natalie gave up hope when her skin didn’t show any sign of changing.
But last year she finally decided to try a new treatment known as Narrowband UVB phototherapy after hearing countless success stories.
Better than that: Natalie says she’s learned to walk away from people who stare and not care about what others may say about her condition
Happier: Natalie says having the treatment has changed her outlook on life
For a year Natalie attended two weekly appointments at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital where she would spend up to four minutes in a tanning booth which emitted high doses of UVB light.
Natalie said: ‘Friends and family told me not to bother with the treatment as I was perfect as I was, but I wanted to give it a try after all these years.
‘The treatment was pretty intense so I had to use sun block on sensitive areas on my body like my lips and elbows to prevent them from burning.
‘I couldn’t believe the outcome after a year, it’s incredible.
‘I know my vitiligo hasn’t gone completely but I’m pleased, I don’t think I’d ever want it to as it’s made me who I am today and I’m proud of the condition.’
Raising the profile: Canadian model Winnie Harlow, 21, whose real name is Chantelle Brown-Young, was diagnosed with vitiligo around the age of four. The America’s Top Model star has been praised for highlighting the condition
She adds: ‘In today’s society we are bombarded with images of the ideal body and how people should look but everyone’s beautiful in their own way.
‘My advice to anyone who’s lacking self-esteem is to learn to be happy with yourself, focus on you and if someone puts you down it’s often because they’re insecure themselves.
‘If I could talk to the same bullies now I would laugh at them and walk away, nothing they could say would affect me, I’m better than that.’
Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson said: ‘Vitiligo is common condition, affecting around one per cent of the world’s population, in which areas of the skin lose their normal pigment and become white.
‘As in Natalie’s case, vitiligo can often lead to a loss in confidence and low self-esteem and in some cases even depression.’
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