Before 2008, Reaux Fareal only knew Vitiligo as “that thing that Michael Jackson had”. It was very uncommon. In fact, he only knew one person with Vitiligo, a childhood friend who’d had it since junior high school.
“When I first recognized small spots on my face, I immediately attributed it to acid. I thought it was from drinking too many Cokes,” said Reaux Fareal. “So, I went on a Coke diet but as the weeks went by, more spots appeared on my skin. I knew then that it had nothing to do with cold drinks.”
After speaking with a dermotologist, Reaux learned he had Vitiligo. “The first thing I did was call my friend Devina. She is the only person I knew with Vitiligo and she was going to have to make this make sense… because I was clueless as to what happens next.” Even though Reaux and Devina were already close friends, they were about to become even closer.
In a matter of months, Reaux’s entire face changed. His signature birthmark above his right eye was completely erased by the skin disease. Huge white spots were all over his face, on his neck, up and down his arms, on his feet and the bottom of his legs. The Vitiligo was also on his scalp causing parts of his hair to be whitish gray. “I went from being the most confident person in the world to the weakest person in a matter of 4 months,” he explained. “It was indeed the darkest period of my life.”
He recalls shutting everyone out. “I was embarrassed. Afraid to look in the mirror. Scarred and unsure of who I was anymore.” It was a test that almost cost him his marriage. “I pushed everyone away and drowned myself in self pitty. The level of depression I sank into was almost suicidal. The only thing that kept me from completely giving up is my Faith in God.” Growing up a preacher’s kid, you get a lot of religion in you at a young age. “I grew up hearing these testimonies from older people about how God brought them through a storm. So, in between the tears, I kept telling myself, this is just a storm and God has to bring me through it.”
Reaux wanted answers, but like most Vitiligo patients, the answers are not what you want to hear. There is no way you can predict where, when, or even if you are going to get Vitiligo. It just randomly happens. There is also no known way to prevent it from occuring and there is no cure either. It is thought to be triggered by a combination of genetics and environmental conditions, which can appear at any age. Common trends have shown stress is a trigger. It can develop from skin damage, heredity, hormonal body changes during adolescence, chemical exposure, and kidney/liver complications.
“I think I was mostly concerned that my wife would lose interest in me,” said Reaux. “I felt she was saying nice things about my appearance to pacify my emotions and I felt they were not sincere.” We were about a finger nail away from separating. Reaux’s wife, Sandria, had become tired of trying to keep him focused and positive. Nothing seemed to work for her. “He was more concerned about it than I was. Yes, it was noticeable but his negative spirit made it take over our whole life,” she explained.
After a year of heavy spotted skin, expensive ointments, and bottles of Vitiman E pills, Reaux just quit caring. “I literally stopped caring. I just accepted it and gave up all feelings about it. I developed a tough skin and told myself the hard truths about living with this. It’s not going to be easy. People are going to stare. Friends may act funny. I may miss opportunities. It is what it is. I worked too hard to get where I was to quit,” said Reaux. He was picked up for a role in HBO’s Season 4 of ‘Treme’ but he was rejected in 7 other roles in which he attributes to the very noticeable skin disease. “I got a role in another movie but I lied. I sent in a cleaned up airbrush picture of myself and I looked totally different when they saw me in person. Later I got the call that they were going to be going in a different direction. This happened 7 different times.”
By 2013, the spots began clearing away. “One by one, they just started erasing. Then they would come back. Then they would disappear and new ones would show up. Then, they would disappear too. It was very hard to accept because you never knew where or when another spot would appear. It sent me into another round of depression because I couldn’t prepare or prevent the spots from appearing,” he explained. Despite the sudden resurgence of the spots, he began touring again anyway.
In 2017, the majority of his spots vanished and this time they didn’t come back. Reaux says the only thing he can attribute to the disappearance of the spots is constant prayer. “I didn’t use any creams on my skin. I stopped taking the Vitamin E pills and I honestly just gave up even focusing on it. I didn’t even realize the spots were leaving until others pointed it out. That’s how disengaged I was with it. I guess the less I stressed about it the more they went away.”
Today, Reaux has spots on his hands that are always visible on his videos. He has spots on his toes and small ones on his elbows. There are still small spots hidden on his scalp but the way he wears his hair usually covers them. The most visible spots are under his eyes. For music videos and promotional pictures they are usually blended with make-up but sometimes he likes to just wear his naturally spotted skin. “Make-up is not about hiding. The little touch ups are just a measure that makes me feel confident at times when I am weak. You never really get over this. It’s always there. Staring you right in the face. You just deal with it day by day. Some days you blend it because you need that level of confidence and some days you just don’t give a damn. The only thing that has become important to me is that I do not allow this to stop me from believing in myself ever again.”
Only 1% of the world’s population have Vitiligo. That’s about 50M people. In the United States there are an estmated 2M people with Vitiligo.