TAMPA, Fla. — People living with the skin disease, Vitiligo, will tell you it doesn't hurt physically, but the pain is real when it comes to their emotions.
"I had to put up with all the teasing and everything like that; everybody's got a nickname," said Greg Parmer.
"Kids are like, 'what happened to your face,' people think you bleach your skin," said Kresha Garrett.
"The first thing that people see is your skin, and when it's changing, and it's not the same color as the rest of your body, people will notice and people will pick it out," said Christopher Meadors.
According to Dr. Seth B Forman, who conducts Vitiligo Clinical Research, an estimated one to three percent of the world's population lives with Vitiligo.
Tonja Johnson said it's about time we start bringing these people together, so she founded the support group, Beautifully Unblemished.
"Where people can come and feel comfortable, it's a safe zone, they don't have to worry about being judged because we are all there with Vitiligo," said Johnson, who was diagnosed in 2013.
Garret, who was diagnosed at age 10, said she was afraid to leave the house without makeup. Then she met Jocelyn Green through the group, and her outlook completely changed.
"Ok, if she can do it, why can't I. So I've been a lot more without it, and I'm a lot more confident without wearing my makeup to cover," said Garrett.
The group isn't just about support; it's also about raising awareness.
"When they see us walking in the street, that can maybe limit the stares because they'll be educated, 'Oh that's Vitiligo, it's just a skin disorder," said Johnson.
This month Beautifully Unblemished received proclamations from the cities of Tampa and Lakeland, officially declaring June Vitiligo Awareness Month.
"Without groups like this started by Tonja, the government, pharmaceutical companies, as well as the Food and Drug Administration would not feel like this condition is important and worth treating," said Dr. Forman.
According to Dr. Forman, up to five new Vitiligo medications are being researched and on the verge of being approved by the FDA.
"Vitiligo should be a term just like cancer, just like diabetes," said Johnson.
Rosa Cambridge was diagnosed with Vitiligo 45 years ago. She's been waiting a long time for so much encouraging news, and she's so glad to have a beautiful group of people to share it with.
"To see people that look like you, with the same problems, this group has been the most outstanding and rewarding group that I've been involved in," said Cambridge.
Beautifully Unblemished meets every quarter. For more information, go to www.beautifullyunblemished.com.