Why Michael Jackson’s Skin Turned White as He Got Older

Scott L. asks: Is it true that Michael Jackson bleached his skin to turn himself white?

michael-jackson-340x511Many scandals marred Michael Jackson’s personal life, overshadowing his otherwise remarkable musical career. One such scandal was the obvious change in his appearance, especially his skin color, which started from the mid-eighties to slowly but surely turn from dark to white.

By the mid-nineties when Jackson released his album History (1995), it was more than obvious even to his most dedicated fans that the man of Thriller (1982) looked nothing like the man who had recently married Elvis Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie. By this time, Michael Jackson was milky white; a skin-color transition that started almost a decade earlier was more or less complete. So what happened?

According to his family and Jackson himself, the “King of Pop” had vitiligo, a condition that causes depigmentation of parts of the skin, which usually results in white spots on the patient’s body; these are even more noticeable if the person has a dark complexion as in Jackson’s case. The 1 in 250 or so people who have this condition typically first start seeing signs of it beginning between 10 and 30 years old.  Approximately 30% of the people who have it also have it run in their family, which is true of Jackson.

In addition to this skin disorder, Jackson also reportedly suffered from systemic lupus erythematosus, which besides potentially being a very serious condition can also cause loss of skin pigmentation.

When the controversy about his changing skin color hit its zenith, Jackson spoke openly about his vitiligo for the first time in an interview he gave to Oprah in 1993. He said among other things,

It is something I cannot help. When people make up stories that I don’t want to be who I am, it hurts me. It’s a problem for me. I can’t control it. But what about all the millions of people who sit in the sun to become darker, to become other than what they are. Nobody says nothing about that.

VitiligoIn the days after, at Jackson’s request his condition was publicly confirmed by his dermatologist, Dr. Arnold Klein, who also stated Jackson was first diagnosed with the condition in 1984. It was also confirmed that he had lupus erythematosus, but that it was in remission.

Conspiracy theorists propose that there was much more to it than this.  That in fact Jackson had no such disease and that he, instead, systematically bleached his skin using Benoquin cream and other medical cocktails in his quest to look like a white person.

The obvious and extensive cosmetic surgeries he had on his eyebrows, eyelashes, lips, and nose only served to enforce the theory that he was simply purposefully tweaking his appearance even more by bleaching his skin.

Vitiligo2So is there any truth to this? Dr. Christopher Rogers, deputy medical examiner at the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office and the man who conducted Michael Jackson’s autopsy, chimed in on this after performing the autopsy on Jackson. Dr. Rogers confirmed that Jackson indeed suffered from vitiligo, most noticeably with patches around his face, chest, abdomen, and arms.

So did he also bleach his skin?  According to dermatologist Dr. Hanish Babu, Jackson did; this is sometimes a treatment used for those with vitiligo.

When these white patches first started appearing, you can see from certain of Jackson’s concert footage that he was trying to mask them with makeup matching his original skin color.  Once the patches became too numerous to easily hide with makeup (and he supposedly became tired of the extensive time needed to apply the makeup every day), he switched strategies and began the process of bleaching his skin, supposedly under the care of his dermatologist and using 20% monobenzyl ether of hydroquinone (Benoquin Cream).   Much later, in June of 2009 after his death, tubes of Benoquin and hydroquinone were found in Jackson’s home.  As Dr. David Sawcer said, “some patients with vitiligo get to the point where it makes more sense to remove the brown bits because so much of the skin is pale.”

Besides giving him a white complexion, this also results in being prone to sun burns, which is why in later years he often kept himself nearly completely covered when outside in the sun. (See What Causes Sunburns and How Sunscreen Prevents It)

In the end, only Jackson knew his true motivation for ultimately choosing to bleach his skin, whether as a treatment for his vitiligo to even out his skin color as reported, or as the conspiracy theorists claim, to further change his appearance to more of a Caucasian look, though one would think the latter would be an odd move for the co-author of the line (with Bill Bottrell), “It don’t matter if you’re black or white.”

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Bonus Facts:

  • Thanks to his vitiligo and needing frequent care from a dermatologist, Jackson met Debbie Rowe, a nurse of his dermatologist.  The two became fast friends and over a decade after they first met, they married in 1996.  They divorced three years later, but reportedly remained friends for the rest of his life.
  • The autopsy also found that Jackson’s lips were tattooed pink, while his eyebrows were tattooed a dark hue. The front of his scalp was also tattooed black, apparently to blend his hairline in with the wigs he wore (he was balding). Also according to the autopsy, Michael Jackson was 5´9˝ and 136 lbs at the time of his death.
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  • Pingback: Why Michael Jackson’s Skin Turned White as He Got Older |()

  • LOVEPAREEK

    TNX FOR SETTLING THIS DEBATE. TILL DATE, I WAS NOT CLEAR ON THIS, HAVING READ NUMEROUS CONFLICTING ACCNTS. U AV NAILED IT FINALLY.

    • Why is your post in all caps?

      It’s amazing how rumors can take the place of truth. People need to stop assuming and consider that some things happen – and people do the best they can with the situation .

  • Josh

    As I posted on Facebook, his condition was already shockingly clear in 1987 when Bad debuted. I don’t think it helped when he started straightening his hair. I don’t think it ever bothered me one way or another, though the excessive plastic surgery was difficult to witness (and also contributed to the rumors), but this was probably a result of the self-consciousness incurred by all the pressure about the vitiligo. He had a rough life, every way he turned. 🙁 The escapism he engaged in, the spending sprees, Neverland, etc. Totally understandable. Oh yeah, when Bad came out, I think I was more focussed on that awesome outfit! lol

    • very true why do people judge people with disorders? it just isn’t fair.

  • Jake Lakota

    And he never had plastic surgery. He wanted to look white just like his sister has tried. PERIOD

    • Alicia

      Having plastic surgery doesn’t mean you want to look white otherwise why do white people do it? Also, there are pictures of MJ with the skin condition as well as performance videos where you can the disorder when his make up sweated off. On trial his dermatologist, under oath, talked about and provided medical records that revealed not only the disorder but the painful treatments he under went to even his skin tone.

      • P

        If it was me I would rather apply brown foundation products. Not bleach. I would not go further and change my African appearance and make it look more European. Straightening of the hair, surgery to reduce nostril and bridge of the nose. Thin the lips and other stuff. Michael like anyone when you go under the knife for cosmetic surgery do it because they believe it will improve their looks. Obviously in Mike’s mind it was better in my opinion to appear as a zombie than to make any effort to hold on to his African appearance. I’m sure if a white person skin was turning too black, they would not go under the knife to enlarge their nostril and find chemical treatments to make their hair thick like wool. At the end of the day I will have to except that there will be people who wants to change their appearance.

        • Maybelle Carillo

          Well we all have our own ways of dealing with our issues and Mike’s way of dealing with his own doesn’t make him less of a man. And he is the world’s greatest entertainer. Period.

          • DEE

            It’s mighty funny that everybody on this blog don’t know Michael Jackson personally. In saying that, how do you really know what happened to him or what he was going through. Media is equivalent to hearsay, especially mags and newspapers. You make your assumptions on what you think is going on because of what you hear and see. It may seem obvious to you, but you really don’t know. Let this magnificent human being rest in peace.

        • Ricyansnow

          1.you are normal human while he is incredible
          2.his scheduele was very strict like how many foundation would he used in just a day? the white patches are not just like dots you know? i have some friend which have vitiligo and the white patches are almost 80% of their skin. like of course its make more sense just to bleach all of it since mj is a performers it would seem bit weird he have half black and half white even he’s not like that he already received so much hates what would happened more if he didn bleached it?

    • Ebonique

      You can hate all you want. Mike was a wonderful human being.

    • jemblue

      If he never had plastic surgery, how exactly did his nose change shape like that?

  • Leigh

    I’m white – very fair skinned, actually – and I have vitiligo, mostly on my hands, tops of my feet, knees and thighs. If I get just a little bit of sun, I end up looking as spotted as a giraffe. Fortunately I’m in my 50s and honestly don’t care what people think. But if this had hit me earlier in my life, and if my skin were darker – yeah, it would have been *very* hard.

  • Laurie Reynolds

    Yes Vitiligo runs in the family i have it all over ,Now my Son has it and get Sun Burnt in 5 Minutes

  • Dainel

    “It don’t matter if you’re black or white”, but it sure sucks to be both black AND white. Especially in patches.

    I wonder if he was thinking of this when that line was written.

    • Glenn

      That’s a good one Dainel(If your name is not a typo lol), pretty sure it was inspired.

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  • Antony Bates

    Jackson may have had a skin condition, I don’t know. I do know he dangled a baby out of a hotel window and got pre-teens drunk on wine before doing, shall we say, inappropriate things. He had a great voice but I don’t think he was a “wonderful human being”. It’s possible to make great records and still be not such a nice guy.

    • Karima

      He was not proven guilty for any rape or pedophile related things. Those were allegations and when he died the boy from the first allegation came out and said that is was all a plan divised by his father and that Michael was one of the nicest men he ever met.

  • hailee

    Elvis Presley’s daughter married Michael Lockwood, not Michael Jackson. wtf? lol

    • Daven Hiskey

      @hailee: She married Michael Jackson in 1994 and they got divorced in 1996. A decade later is when she married Michael Lockwood.

  • hailee

    do you realize how hard it is to prove a rape or molestation? especially when the accused rapist is famous and filthy rich?

    jordan was 13 and michael and him were having sleepovers and half-week long visits.

  • I cannot believe how ignorant people are about Michael Jackson. Michael had three nose jobs and a cleft put in his chin. That is it for plastic surgery. He hated his nose and had nose jobs like everybody else who hates their nose. He did not want to be “white”. He was proud of his race.

    He did not dangle his baby out of a hotel window. He was waving to fans from the hotel balcony and they wanted to see the baby. He showed the baby for ONE SECOND not ONE HOUR like the media made it seem.

    Don’t comment on Michael if you know nothing. He was a great talent with a heart full of love.

  • Also Michael was NOT a child molester. All you have to do is research the two families who accused them. Both families had a mentally ill parent and both families needed and wanted MONEY. After you research these two families you will understand why Michael was always innocent.

  • Rob

    Truth of the matter is we don’t know if Jackson was a child molester or not. He was a fabulously talented man with a horribly screwed up life. I’d say he found art in tragedy and leave the rest to God.

  • IloveMJ

    I believed him when he said he didnt, I love him with all my heart and I will defend him with all my life. He had a skin condition and its very disturbing to have an uneven skin especially if you are a cery popular person and your face is all over the media. He just decided to bleach because makup takes too much time and he is a very busy person. He also had his nose done because he was very insecure about it. Who woudnt be when his very own father told him he’s ugly. That is the most hurtful thing, being discriminated by your very own father. For me, his tranformations made him even more unique than any other artists and made him more exiting. I love U Mj

    • Just wante to be white

      No skin condition. He was mentally instable (as evident when he hung his child from balcony). He had problems. The man sang well but had serious problems.

  • Amaka.

    A very special and unique legend!Michael Jackson still lives and that’s why we all still talk about him.Loved him to bits,still do and don’t care what negative people think of him,can’t take the fact that it takes a blessed talent like him to keep tongues wagging!He fought his personal problems(which we all do)but had to do his in the eyes of the public!

  • OMan

    We can never fully explain what he thought when MJ had all the surgery done (YES he did) to his face but it’s quite sad to think that he felt a need to look “white”..we can be sure that he wouldn’t have done it thou had he not seen it necessary to do #NoToHate

  • sepehr

    i never cared if he bleached his skin or he had vitiligo but the only thing is that if u have a brain u can see he had vitiligo obviously.he was and will be the most adorable entertainer.

  • jose mazcorro

    He did have too much public pressure in his life, yet maybe, if he had not concealed his condition from the beginning, he would have avoided many rumors… Pitifully he was not so stable person, he had great songs and was a great dancer.

  • Jon

    You people need to stop with the bashing, due to MJ’s changes in he’s appearance. You see many white people , tan their skin in the Sun or tanning salons but no one says that’s wired. Are they shamed of their whitness? I don’t think so. Many use botox or fillers to make their lips bigger. Are whites note satisfied with the lips they born with? Doing these are a personal choice, and between them and their God , if they believe in such . Why is it always blacks must hate themsleves by making changes to their appearance, can’t the same be said for whites , who also make these changes?

  • Mondli

    Michael did what was necessary for his career and to deal with the condition he had.
    He was always in the public eye,makeup was not going to cut it.

  • Michael Jackson did not bleach his body to become white he had a skin infection that went all over his body

  • Shima Kennedy

    Why do people chose to ignore the most important issues to be discussed about Michael Jackson and engage in the trivia issues?
    1. MJ was the greatest entertainer that ever lived and remains the greatest entertainer in death.
    2. MJ was humanitarian with a guiness record of over 8 charities set up for different causes.
    3. MJ preached Love
    4. MJ broke racial barriers with his works and not by crying victim
    5. MJ was human

  • Just wante to be white

    The man wanted to be white. No one says anything about famous folks that want to be black–can you say m&m?!?!?!

    • Meghan

      I don’t think you can say what he wanted to be when you don’t know him personally and he never documented anything that said “I want to be white” or anything along those lines. It’s pretty ignorant to just say what you think this man wanted rather than actually hearing him tell you what he wanted. He isn’t hear to tell us exactly why he did everything he did. You can’t just say he didn’t have problems like vitiligo to cope with.

    • Rowan09

      Why would he want to white?