I’m Laughing at My Salt-and-Pepper Skin

Lisa Weber avatar

by Lisa Weber |

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Back in the late 1980s, I was listening to the iconic female hip-hop group Salt-N-Pepa as I entered my teenage years. Today, their words would be considered mild, but back then, tunes like “Push It” and “Let’s Talk About Sex” were a hot topic in the tabloids.

Like most rebellious teens, I was drawn to the controversy. Barely understanding the lyrics, I rapped every word on my homemade mixed tape, played through the headphones of a yellow Walkman. I was so cool!

White patches on my skin

“Salt and pepper” has a new meaning to me today. It’s a term used to describe the skin coloring of many scleroderma victims. And it doesn’t make me feel cool.

Not only is it a reminder that my body is breaking down much too young, but it also has made me feel self-conscious about my appearance. My naturally dark, olive skin tone is the perfect backdrop to highlight the sea of white specks all over my body. It’s impossible to hide.

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Many people tell me that it’s sun damage. They also offer comfort by showing me their white skin specks. But these insights give me little comfort.

My speckled skin, which the professionals call hyperpigmentation, began at the age of 36 and engulfed my entire body within a few months. I went from getting compliments on my gorgeous tan to complete silence. No one says anything about my skin now. What would they say, “I love your white freckles, they’re so unique”?

But because I was taking a medication called CellCept, I had strict orders to avoid the sun or risk skin cancer. I’m a rule follower, so I knew the hyperpigmentation wasn’t from the sun. My body was overproducing hormones that caused my pigmentation to change.

Less than a year later, the white spots started popping up like someone was splattering white paint on me. And for all of those people who told me how jealous they were of my “tan,” this is why I was never proud of my “I just got back from a tropical vacation” complexion. It was sick skin, and I knew what was next. That’s not sun damage or natural aging.

My new skin tone is hard to accept

That’s the thing about scleroderma — it doesn’t give me time to adjust. Its damage is quick and fierce. It has altered my appearance so quickly that I am still startled when I look at myself. It’s like waking up in a new body.

A few years ago, I read an article about how ancient drawings portrayed a mythical belief that humans could morph into different beings and animals. I couldn’t help but think we analyzed their drawing incorrectly. Maybe people of ancient times had diseases like scleroderma. Without science, couldn’t it be possible they were desperately trying to give meaning to the sudden changes their bodies were undergoing?

Cosmetic changes aren’t life-threatening, but they still cause emotional pain. I know my appearance shouldn’t cause negative thoughts, but that’s easier said than done. Whether we like it or not, vanity has its place in our society.

I do miss the body I had only a few years ago — my smooth, flexible, naturally golden skin. And sometimes it has nothing to do with craving perfection. I just want to age at a pace I can adjust to naturally. My polka-dotted skin makes me sad at times.

I can’t reverse the damage, but I can overcome its effects

Fortunately, I have found a way to rise above my sneaky, unwanted, depressing thoughts: humor and song. When I begin to think about my polka-dotted arms and legs, I immediately bust out in song inside my head.

Yup, I am singing every word of my favorite Salt-N-Pepa songs to give myself much-needed comic relief. And if I’m in the privacy of my home, I give award-winning performances: “Here I go, here I go, here I go again! Girls, what’s my weakness? Men! Ok then …”

Fight against the negative thoughts and find your smile

Scleroderma is cruel, but it’s important to find ways to not let it steal your sunshine. When you feel it pulling you underwater, sing a silly song or challenge your thoughts with comedic relief. Laugh at yourself. Be silly!

Do whatever you have to do to take away the power this disease holds over you. Actively search for ways to “shoop ba-doop,” and have fun when you can. Life is more enjoyable with a smile — even if it is forced.


Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.


Marie Gray avatar

Marie Gray

Brilliant article Lisa, I really enjoyed reading it. The only thing I'd winched at reading was you describing us as 'victims'. Surely we're just patients or people with Systemic Sclerosis? Its that old question, 'Why me or why not me?'. It is what it is, so we just have to get on with it & try not to adopt a victim mentality.

Amy L Appleton avatar

Amy L Appleton

Excellent portrayal of the wonders of Scleroderma…we are lucky to have it…as there are so many other life altering issues I would not trade for. I agree smiling and embracing the noticeable differences is the best medicine. You are already unique as the person you are, which sometime doesn’t reveal itself readily…but white spots on olive skin tone, is artwork! Embrace the artwork that is uniquely you! What messes us up is what we expected and not what we received! Go with the moment in the present and life will become more beautiful!

shellie young avatar

shellie young

Thank you Amy. The white dots expressed perfectly and I perfectly related



Thankyou for sharing that, my skin is not that bad but the areas affected are not pretty to say the least, the doc calls it flexor, behind both knees, both groin areas which spread down top of thigh and onto stomach bilaterally and on sides of both breasts, so weird!!! the groins are worst, totally leathery, burns, itches, sometimes bleeds in little spots. I recently moved to Florida and swim daily, was going to wear shorts to cover up the areas, but decided to embrace it and let it show, I figured everyone's got something and I've got this. Easier said than done but you are beautiful and awesome and I appreciate you sharing your story and how you've overcome it!

analisa garces avatar

analisa garces

you expressed how I feel about my skin perfectly. Thank you for these words!


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