How Did Michael Jackson Turn White? The Facts About His Skin Condition

Michael Jackson gazing in sunglasses. How did Michael Jackson turn white? Read on to find out.
The King of Pop in Las Vegas. How did Michael Jackson turn white? Read on to find out. Image by TheCuriousGnome on Wikimedia Commons.

Last updated on April 14th, 2023 at 08:40 pm

In Michael Jackson’s young days, he cruised his way into the heart of America as a member of the Jackson 5. As time went on, he became known as the King of Pop, giving the world the likes of songs such as “Thriller” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” 

But controversy began to meet him in the 1980s as audiences saw his appearance begin to change drastically, particularly the color of his skin, which changed from medium brown to noticeably pale. 

Was he trying to hide his African American heritage or was it a health condition he couldn’t help? How did Michael Jackson turn white?

Find out below. 

How Did Michael Jackson Turn White?

Michael Jackson’s skin color changing towards the end of his career had to do with having the skin disease vitiligo.

michael jackson black
Publicity photo of the Jacksons from their television variety show. All brothers except Jermaine are pictured; he was not part of their television program because of contractual issues. From left, bottom: Randy, Marlon, Tito, Jackie and Michael, who’s driving the motorcycle. Photo taken in 1977. Image by CBS Television on Wikimedia Commons.

Michael Jackson’s Vitiligo Diagnosis

Michael Jackson’s dermatologist, Arnold Klein, first observed symptoms of vitiligo in 1983, but he was not officially diagnosed until 1986.

Before his vitiligo diagnosis, Klein diagnosed Jackson with discoid lupus erythematosus in 1983, a skin disorder that causes sores.

What is Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a disease in which random patches of skin begin losing their pigment, resulting in those spots looking paler than the rest of the skin. Depigmentation of the patches of skin is permanent.

Those with vitiligo are more sensitive to sunlight and are at a greater risk of developing melanoma. Because of the latter, those with vitiligo are encouraged to have annual cancer screenings.

It remains a mystery what causes an individual to develop vitiligo, but experts have said it may be related to genetics and has environmental triggers, much like an autoimmune disease would.

Related: 35 Interesting Facts About Michael Jackson: Height, Weight, How He Died and More

Other Celebrities Diagnosed With Vitiligo

The King of Pop isn’t the only celebrity to have suffered from the condition. 

Top Model Winnie Harlow, four-time Emmy Award nominee Lee Thomas, and rapper Big Krizz Kaliko have also been diagnosed with vitiligo. Jon Hamm, Holly Marie Combs, and Rasheed Abdul Wallace are a few more.

What are the Different Types of Vitiligo?

There are three different patterns of vitiligo.

In segmental depigmentation, one side of the body is affected by vitiligo.

In generalized depigmentation, several parts of the body are affected.

In focal depigmentation, only one or very few areas of the body are affected.

Psychological Effects of Vitiligo.

Studies have shown that vitiligo can cause many psychological disorders among patients, including isolation, stigmatization, loss of self-esteem, depression, and self-consciousness.

It’s possible that Michael Jackson experienced these things as the late singer was on anti-depressants; however, his depression was also linked to loneliness as a child and his struggle with acne.

Related: How Did Bob Marley Die? The Ultimate Guide 

How Did Michael Jackson Treat His Vitiligo?

At the time of his diagnosis, Michael Jackson got himself well-informed on the disease. He often turned to Debbie Rowe, the nurse of his dermatologist, for medical information and emotional support. 

To even out the coloring of his skin, Jackson used fair-colored makeup and skin-bleaching creams. 

After his death, tubes of Benoquin and hydroquinone were found at his home. Patients use both creams to treat vitiligo. 

Jackson also drew attention away from the disorder by wearing long sleeves and pants, often in dark colors with no patterns. 


Why Did Michael Jackson Wear One Glove?

It wasn’t just a fashion statement. Michael Jackson’s signature glove was also because of his vitiligo. The condition started on his hand and the glove covered it. 

Michael Jackson’s Response to Anti-Black Rumors

As his appearance continued to get lighter, Michael Jackson was the subject of a lot of backlash and criticism from the media and other professionals of the African American race.

Psychologists said he was a “lousy role model for black youth.” Particularly, Dr. Dennis Chestnut said the star had given “black youth a feeling that they can achieve” but are encouraged to be obscure or peculiar.

He was also accused of trying to look whiter to get into more film and television projects.

It wasn’t just “random” people who made comments. Even filmmaker John Landis, who directed Jackson’s videos for “Thriller” and “Black or White,” commented on his appearance. 

Upon seeing Jackson’s bleached chest, Landis called the doctor involved in doing it a criminal.

In 1993, during a highly-publicized interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson finally got to address the rumors. The interview was watched by more than 62 million Americans, opening up the conversation about vitiligo which wasn’t as well-known at the time.  

In the interview, Jackson said, “As I know of, there is no such thing as skin bleaching. I’ve never seen it. I don’t know what it is.” 

Then, upon revealing his diagnosis with vitiligo and admitting to using makeup to even out his skin tone, Jackson said, “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 the millions of people who sit in the sun to become darker, to become other than what they are. Nobody says nothing about that.”

Along with the interview with Winfrey, Jackson has publicly proclaimed his pride as a black man.

In 1988, he wrote a three-page handwritten letter to photographer William Pecchi Jr., (a camera operator on Jackson’s Moonwalker film), also addressing the issue.

In the letter, Jackson wrote: “Maybe I look at the world through rose-colored glasses, but I love people all over the world. That is why stories of racism really disturb me. … Because in truth I believe all men are created equal. I was taught that and will always believe it. I just can’t conceive of how a person could hate another because of skin color. I love every race on the planet earth. Prejudice is the child of ignorance. Naked we come into the world and naked we shall go out. And a very good thing, too, for it reminds me that I am naked under my skin, whatever its color.”

What Did the Autopsy Reveal?

Michael Jackson’s autopsy confirmed that he did in fact have vitiligo, though it was the least severe – focal depigmentation – only affecting five areas of his skin.

His skin had reduced melanocytes, which are the cells that are active in the pigmentation of skin.

Michael Jackson’s Other Health Problems.

Along with the vitiligo, Michael Jackson suffered from several health problems.

Physically he has suffered from third-degree burns and scalp surgery after a fire broke out during a commercial shoot in 1984.

In the 80s and 90s, he also canceled several shows due to problems such as dehydration, orthopedic issues, viral infections, vocal problems, and even abscessed molars.

Jackson also suffered from insomnia. He became addicted to painkillers and often took propofol to help him sleep. 

Propofol is widely speculated to be the reason for Jackson’s untimely death.

How Did Michael Jackson Die?

Michael Jackson died at the age of 50 from a cardiac arrest on June 25, 2009. 

It is said to be caused by a combination of sedatives and propofol. His physician, Conrad Murray, who administered the drugs, was charged, and subsequently convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011. 

He served two years of his original four-year prison sentence. 

Related: The Death of a Superstar: How Exactly Did Michael Jackson Die

Michael Jackson 1988
Michael Jackson with two fans at the Kahala Hilton Hotel. Photograph by Alan Light, early February 1988 on Wikimedia Commons.

Michael Jackson Young Days

In Michael Jackson’s youth, he rose to fame as a member of the Jackson 5, founded in 1964, when he was only six years old. 

The group consisted of his brothers, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Marlon. Michael was the youngest of the brothers at the time and remained a member of the group for the next 20 years. He briefly reunited with the group in 2001. 

Michael Jackson Solo Career

Michael Jackson began his solo career in the early 1970s

He recorded his first solo album, Off The Wall, in 1979Such hits as “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” became No. 1 hits for the album.

Jackson earned his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance the next year. It’s one of several dozen awards he would go on to receive both while alive and posthumously. 

In total, as a solo artist, Jackson has released ten studio albums, three soundtrack albums, one live album, 39 compilation albums, 10 video albums, and eight remix albums. 

Two albums of previously unreleased tracks were posthumously released in 2010 and 2014, respectively. 

Related: Michael Jackson’s Net Worth: The King of Pop’s Impressive Wealth

Michael Jackson Wife

Michael Jackson was married twice. His first marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of the King of Rock ‘n Roll Elvis Presley, lasted from 1994 to 1996. 

He was married to his second wife, dermatologist nurse, Debbie Rowe from 1996 to 2000. 

Rowe proved a huge help to Jackson when he was first diagnosed with vitiligo. She often provided him with medical information as he learned more about the disease as well as emotional support. 

Related: 32 Interesting Facts About Elvis Presley 

Michael Jackson Kids

Michael Jackson had two kids with his second wife, Debbie Rowe. 

The couple’s son, Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., known as Prince, was born on February 13, 1997. Their daughter Paris-Michael Katherine Jackson was born just over a year later on April 3, 1998. 

In February 2002, Jackson’s second son, Prince Michael Jackson II, known as Blanket, was born via surrogate. The child was conceived by artificial insemination.

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Written by Anna Paulson


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