When a photographer in Arvada was diagnosed with vitiligo, a skin disorder that leaves people with discolored skin, her life changed - and at first, not for the better.

So Jasmine Colgan turned to what she knows best, taking photos, to help her adjust to her new skin.

"It was difficult because I had one skin tone all my life growing up and it was almost with the blink of an eye that I lost the pigmentation and developed a new personality, or a new identity if you will, through my skin disorder," said Colgan. "It's been crazy trying to figure out who I am, but I use my camera to help me document my process."

Jasmine Colgan photo courtesy Mark Tolbert for web_1509075180421.png
Photo of Jasmine Colgan. Courtesy: Mark Tolbert

Now, she's traveling the country meeting people with the same disorder as part of her project "Tough Skin."

A project whose name she credits to her grandmother.

"My grandma was my inspiration growing up she was the strongest woman I ever met in my life. When she was sick in the hospital, she made a comment towards me, I was crying - I had just been diagnosed with vitiligo, and I was like grandma I don't know what's going to happen - I'm so afraid, I don't know what's going to happen, I don't know what I'm going to look like and she was like Jasmine you gotta have tough skin," said Colgan.

Jasmine has been working on Tough Skin for six years.

She connects with people through social media then heads out to meet them in person.

"I travel out to meet them in their locations, and I photograph their skin, and hear their experience living with the skin disorder," she said.

One of those people is 14-year-old Sabrina Harris, a freshman at Columbine High School.

Sabrina developed vitiligo when she was just eight years-old.

"It was just one spot, and it started to spread and I was kind of confused what it was, but like I learned that it wouldn't change the way I felt or my health so I didn't let it change what I was doing with my life. It's not genetic it's autoimmune in my case and it just made me feel like more unique that I had something that made me look different and I think it gave me a new confidence to love the skin that I have," said Harris.

Sabrina's mother, Rebecca Harris connected with Jasmine on Facebook.
The three met in person in October.

"She threw me off guard, I was expecting a shy freshman, you know just entered high school, but she's already a young woman. It's incredible to see what the skin disorder kind of impacts on such a young age," said Colgan.

Sabrina, was just as impressed.
"I just think that her {Jasmine} work is really cool because it just shows their differences aren't what define them, they just like are beautiful no matter how they look," said Sabrina.

Rebecca added her daughter's, and Jasmine's, stories aren't only inspiring for people with vitiligo, but for everyone.

"I don't know whether these strong personalities are blessed with vitiligo to lead the rest of us, or whether that's something they develop because of the vitiligo, but I love how that community just always has that strength," said Rebecca.

"Vitiligo doesn't discriminate. It can just, it'll affect anybody," said Jasmine. "It will pick you and it's a matter of staying strong and you know loving the tough skin that you're in."

Jasmine's work will be displayed at the TedX Women in Art Adventure on Thursday, November 9, at ATC DEN on 3420 Larimer Street from 6 to 9 p.m.

Vitiligo occurs when pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) die or stop producing melanin — the pigment that gives your skin, hair and eyes color. The involved patches of skin become lighter or white. Doctors don't know why the cells fail or die. It may be related to:

  • A disorder in which your immune system attacks and destroys the melanocytes in the skin
  • Family history (heredity)
  • A trigger event, such as sunburn, stress or exposure to industrial chemicals

For more information about vitiligo, you can visit the Mayo Clinic's webpage on the skin disorder.