At the age of 12, I was diagnosed with vitiligo and patches of my skin rapidly started turning white. The condition also affects my hair, my eyelashes, and, currently, half of one eyebrow. Vitiligo isn't life-threatening. Yes, it's pretty uncommon (a reported 40 to 50 million people in the world have the condition, and 2 to 5 million of those live in the States), but it is possible to go about your day-to-day life nonetheless. Although the condition doesn't come with lashings of side effects, it can often massively knock your confidence.
America's Next Top Model's Chantelle Brown-Young (Winnie Harlow) has spoken out about the bullying she faced growing up with vitiligo, telling People Magazine, "It was tough. I definitely had problems with self-esteem." Although mine isn't as noticeable as hers, I can still relate. Nearly everyone who has vitiligo will develop it by the time they're 40, and many of us will have a diagnoses by the age of 20. In the latter case, you can basically cue being a prime target for high school snickering. When I was at school, I received gawks from every angle. At that age, I didn't want to get my white eyebrows dyed, despite being rudely asked questions like, "What the hell happened to your face?"
I garnered my fair share of nasty comments, all of which took their toll on teenage me. A favorite amongst the crowd seemed to be that I would make for a great Halloween costume. Maybe they were right, but that's not something you want to hear when you're growing up and trying to feel comfortable in your own skin.
In the years since, I've grown to embrace my natural self. But sometimes covering up my vitiligo eyebrows is an additional source of empowerment.
A year or two after my diagnoses, I was just beginning to experiment with makeup and, let's face it, I was probably pretty awful at it. My attempt at concealing my white hairs with thick black brows was even more comical to the kids at school. FYI, younger self, eyeliner won't work, unless you're aiming for some pretty dodgy-looking MySpace selfies.
Unfortunately, there was very little material on the Internet that could teach me how to draw a realistic-looking shape; let alone teach me how to successfully color white hairs, which as anyone with vitiligo will know, differ drastically from blonde or fine-colored ones.
After a tedious nine-year process of trial and error, I've managed to work out a routine that works. So much so that people I know now are often surprised when I say I have vitiligo. With that in mind, I've decided to show you the process I go through when I feel like concealing my brows. Although it will vary from person to person, I hope it gives all you vitiligo-newbies a little more confidence when tackling pigment loss.
1. Comb Your Brows
I start by combing my brows. It's easiest to do this with an eyebrow comb, as they're soft, the right size, and, obviously, made for shaping your brows. That said, if you don't have one, this is possible to do it with a regular tail or fine-tooth comb. Just make sure you wash it first!
2. Pluck Your Brows
I'm the first to admit that I'm useless at shaping my brows. I can just about pluck the stay hairs from my left one, aka the normal one, but when it comes to the white one, it's extremely difficult to make out what should be there and what shouldn't.
To avoid any mishaps, I only pluck what I can see. In the past, I've become a little tweezer-happy with the white hairs and it's resulted in some very unusual shapes. So better safe than sorry.
3. Trace The Bottom Of Your Brows
Using a light brown eyeshadow (since I tend to find these are a little more malleable than many brow-specific products) and an angled eyebrow brush to easily mold said eyeshadow in place, I trace the bottom of my brows and draw a line. It's important to start with a paler shade and build the color up, otherwise the white hairs will look even more prominent.
4. Trace The Top Of Your Brows
Once I've traced the bottom, I do the exactly the same to the top of both my brows. For me, it gives off a more natural effect. But your vitiligo is bound to be different to mine, so plan on mildly adapting the process to whatever you see fit. Some ladies might want to only put makeup on one brow as opposed to both. The choice is yours alone.
5. Fill In The Middle Of Your Brows
Still using the same medium brown eyeshadow, I then fill in the middle of my brows. While I use the tip of the angled brush to trace the bottom and top of the arch, I lay the brush flat and use the side of it to fill them in. Following this, I check whether my brows are in proportion. The start of them should line up with the outer bridge of my nose.
6. Brush The Color Out
I do the same to both brows, before brushing the color out. This makes the eyeshadow slightly lighter, but is essential when it comes to building the color up.
7. Use A Brow Pencil Or Darker Eyeshadow
Next, I use an eyebrow pencil or darker shadow and focus on what I call the middle of my brows. In other words, the bit I filled in with the side of the brush earlier. When I do this, I tend to keep clear of the edges as I don't want them looking too harsh. Instead, I pay attention to adding extra color and draw soft and subtle lines in the direction of the hair, making it look more natural.
8. Set Them By Using A Clear Eyebrow Gel
I set my eyebrows and lock the product in place with a clear brow gel. If you don't have a specific gel, a clear mascara will work, too. Just swipe in the direction of the hairs and let the product dry. For the summer season, I recommend adding an extra coat of normal makeup setting spray. That way the products you've used won't sweat off during the day.
The Finished Results
For me, my brow makeup went from being a mask that I hid behind to a total confidence booster — a means of empowerment, if you will. Now when people ask about the condition, I don't clam up or feel embarrassed. In fact, I'm more than likely to take my makeup off and show them.
By managing to successfully conceal my brows to the point where no one even knows I have vitiligo, I began to accept them more. They no longer scare me and I'm a lot less self-conscious than I used to be. Popping to the shops with half a brow isn't an issue. Neither is drawing them on for a night out. Brow gel or not, it goes to show that the purest form of love is self-worth.
Images: Emma Matthews