Thriving with Vitiligo: An Interview with Karlowba Powell

Thriving with Vitiligo: An Interview with Karlowba Powell
Karlowba is wearing our Women's LumaLeo Pullover in Soft Lilac Heather

Who is Karlowba Powell?

Mother. Daughter. Attorney. Basketball star. Empowerment advocate.

Karlowba Powell has lived with Vitiligo for 37 years, but not once has it slowed her down or dulled her shine. Instead, she encourages people to embrace their authentic self—including our differences. Or, as she calls them, our superpowers.

Because of her infectious passion to empower, she was recently approached by People.com to be featured in an article lending advice for teachers and parents of children with Vitiligo.

“People with Vitiligo are my people but I want to inspire everyone to embrace who you are.”

The Coolibar Marketing Team was lucky enough to meet with Karlowba to talk about her journey with Vitiligo over some sunshine and tacos.

Q&A

How do you define Vitiligo?

“Vitiligo is not a disease to me. It’s a skin disorder. What people don’t know is your skin’s pH is supposed to be H2O, pure water, but Vitiligo patients have too much H₂O₂, hydrogen peroxide, in their skin which bleaches out your melanocytes (the cells responsible for the pigmentation of skin).

It’s also a social disorder because it can make or break you socially; people see you all the time. Depending on how you feel about your Vitiligo, it can have an extreme effect on your self-esteem, your self-image. If you lack confidence or are insecure about your skin people feed off that. Whatever energy you give, people will pick it up, chew it and swallow it. But if you have confidence, people have no choice but to embrace it.”

Describe your journey with Vitiligo from diagnosis to today.

“I was diagnosed with Vitiligo when I was 10. From the beginning my mother was very overprotective because it started on my face. She immediately went out to get makeup because she didn’t want the kids to tease me. She wanted to shield me from the world. Back then in 1986, people didn’t know a lot about vitiligo. It was taboo. I remember my grandmother telling me, ‘you have Vitiligo, don’t let it get you. God gave this to you because he knew you could handle it. You don’t have to be ashamed or upset, own it.’ And I did.

That year my mom got a job in Germany where a world-renowned dermatologist, who developed a pseudocatalase cream, practiced. The cream applied different minerals to your skin that, when accompanied with UVB light treatment, would generate pigmentation. I lived in Germany until I received a full-ride scholarship to play basketball at Fort Hays State University where I continued using the cream and light therapy daily. It was during my sophomore year when I tore up my knee during a game and was recovering from surgery that my Vitiligo spread like crazy.

After college I moved from Kansas to Minnesota where I treated with Dr. Crutchfield. Fast forward to 2018, my Vitiligo got really aggressive and started taking over—I had more white patches of skin than brown and felt like I was losing myself. I love my Vitiligo but I didn’t want to be completely Vitiligo. I want to be brown and have Vitiligo. I think it’d be boring to be one color because I haven’t been one color for most of my life. I’m one of one and I love it. So I went back to Dr. Crutchfield and he said ‘your Vitiligo has gotten aggressive so we have to get aggressive.’ He had a new treatment called Excermer that focused on the face. Within days my pigmentation grew, and I got a little more brown on my face so I stopped treatment.

In 2020 the pandemic hit; I wasn’t in court anymore, I’m not putting on makeup, I’m just living my life. Once the death toll hit one million, I realized what was important and wanted to inspire others to embrace their differences whatever they may be. Every one of us has something we aren’t particularly happy with, wish was different or just something that’s unique to you, and I want to encourage, empower and motivate people to embrace their different, because different is beautiful.

On January 22, 2021, my 45th birthday, I unveiled my true, authentic self for the first very time on Facebook. I hoped not wearing makeup would encourage and inspire people to be yourself. One of my slogans is ‘my designer skin is my superpower.’ You have to trust your uniqueness. Never try to fit in, we’re made to stand out!”

What do you wish more people knew about those living with Vitiligo?

“I want people to know that I’m not burned. We’re not burned. I’ve had people come up to me and pet my arm because they think my skin will feel leathery or raised, not soft.

Two, it's not contagious.

Three, ask questions and don’t stare. I don’t take offense to questions. It can be a conversation piece or distraction. Thankfully, for me it’s not a bad distraction, but for some people it is. I can’t be in court talking about Vitiligo or arguing with you that my lips are my lips and not a lipstick color. These things happen, and that’s why I always covered my face with makeup.

I think kids are the best because they are so genuine, honest and innocent. I’ll hear a kid ask ‘what is that?’ And I’ll go over to them and say, ‘do you want to know what’s on my hands?’ Most parents thank me for taking the time to describe it to their kids.

Finally, I would tell parents to please, please step back and let your children lead the way. They will let you know when they need you to swoop in with your capes! Until then, they’ve got it. Let them live—they are resilient and can handle it! Out of love, my mom was immediately so overprotective, I feel like my Vitiligo affected her more than it did me.

What is your sun protection regimen?

“Honestly, my sun protection routine sucks and I go everywhere it’s hot, like Dubai or Mexico. I know I need to protect my skin. SPF 30+ sunscreen is the only thing a dermatologist has ever recommended, but I have Vitiligo on over 90% of my body so lathering sunscreen everywhere is annoying—nobody wants to do that. But now that I’ve been introduced to Coolibar, I can wear my sun protection and am so excited about it! It’s huge for me that I now only have to apply sunscreen to my face.”

What do you like most about your Coolibar products?

“First, I love this [Calvada Cover-Up] dress, it’s so cute! I’m wearing it for the rest of the day. Usually, therapeutic clothes aren’t cute. And the fact that Coolibar is cute and therapeutic is a huge plus. I also love the material. It’s breathable, soft and actually has a cooling effect when you’re in the sun. You totally can feel it. “Coolibar clothes are simply amazing and I wish I would’ve had them before!”

Follow @vitiligo_konfidence on Instagram to see Karlowba’s journey and her Coolibar favorites. A special thank you to Karlowba Powell for sharing her story with us and the Coolibar community!

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