By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney
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Videographer / Director: Oliver Coward
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ruby Coote
Editor: Josh Halil
Mariah Perkins isn’t beautiful in spite of her vitiligo; she’s beautiful because of it.
But up until a year ago, the 21-year-old, from Timonium, Maryland, would hide the white patches on her face with thick make-up.
She got so good at applying it that if you didn’t look at her white hands, you’d never know she had vitiligo, a skin condition where pale white patches appear on the skin, caused by a lack of the pigment melanin.
The criminology student would spend hundreds of dollars a month on her heavy-duty foundations, blended by Mariah herself to get the perfect skin match, and setting powders.
By the time she got to college she would even sleep in her make-up. That was until a year ago when Mariah, tired of caking her face in foundation, decided to go “cold turkey”.
Posting pictures of her natural beauty on social media, Mariah was amazed by the positive comments she received and is now happy to not just go out in public with her bare face on display but when she performs as a dancer too.
Mariah told Barcroft TV: “I don’t cover it up because at the end of the day I really can’t do much about it to change it. I have to live with it so I guess everybody else does too.”
“I think what helped me realize the beauty in my skin condition is just taking the time to look at it and its uniqueness and seeing how it looks with an open mind, rather than looking at it as, ‘this is a skin condition.’
I tell myself every day that I look beautiful, and plus it didn’t hurt that people told me as well.”
Vitiligo doesn’t physically hurt those who have it but the white patches can grow and spread over time. In Mariah’s case, her vitiligo started as a tiny dot on her finger when she was in seventh grade.
She said: “it was like a really small spot on my hand and it kinda gradually spread to spots on my nose and my eyes and that’s when I first started to notice it.
“It wasn’t a super concern until it took up about 90% of my face.”
It took seeing four dermatologists before the diagnosis of vitiligo was confirmed.
Mariah said: “We went to [the] doctors, me and my mom and they told us what it was.
“At first we really kinda had no idea.”
Worried she would be bullied, Mariah started to cover up the light patches on her face.
She said: “I was already shy, I think it just made me more self conscious and overly concerned about my make-up.
“I think that was another big reason I wore the make-up cause I didn’t want to be known as the girl with the skin condition.
“Most people didn’t know that I had a skin condition on my face, they just thought I wore make-up.”
But the amount of money, time and worry she was spending on covering her vitiligo started to take its toll on Mariah.
She explained: "It was easier to wear make-up than to constantly have to explain what the condition was to people at that young age. But wearing that much make-up all the time was time-consuming and expensive.
“I would go through setting powder in two weeks, so I was buying $25-30 setting powder every two weeks and I was buying foundations every month so I was going through hundreds of dollars of make-up.”
Mariah said: “I always had to be extra hyper vigilant with everything, like you don’t realise how many times of the day you touch your face or don’t realise how many times you lay your head on somebody’s shoulders, hug somebody and they have a lighter colour shirt or just as simple as going swimming or sleeping at other people’s houses.
"I always had to have my make-up with me, whenever I left the house I had my make-up on, if I ever stayed at someone’s house I slept with it on.”
By the time Mariah was in college she was regularly sleeping in her foundation and going to dance rehearsals in a full face of make-up.
Mariah told Barcroft TV: “Growing up I felt like I had to wear make-up everyday to get through the day or to not be looked at a certain way. And then as I got older I started to wear less and less, it became more of my choice and that is where the empowerment came for me.”
“People started to see me on social media, and it made it easier for the transition.
After posting her barefaced pictures on social media, Mariah stopped disguising her vitiligo with make-up when going out and also when performing with her dance group.
“I do not wear make-up anymore to cover up my condition, in about a month or two it would be about a year since I have stopped wearing it officially.”
The exact cause of vitiligo is unknown and although laser treatment can reduce the loss of pigmentation there is no cure for the condition – but nor should there be, says Mariah.
She said: “I think I was meant to go through it for a reason so I can help others go through it and make it easier.
"I am a strong person and it made me stronger so definitely I am thankful for the experience it has given me.
"I definitely wouldn’t have taken it away because I would not have been the person I am today without it. ”