TIME

America’s Next Top Model Contestant’s Rare Skin Condition, Explained

A young model contestant has a skin disorder called vitiligo and it's beautiful

Chantelle Young, 19, is one of the contestants on the upcoming season of America’s Next Top Model and has a skin condition called vitiligo. It causes parts of her skin to be white whereas the rest of her skin is dark. Interestingly, the disorder looks symmetrical on her face. She says, “A lot of people have a story or a background, but mine is painted on my body.”

But what exactly is vitiligo?

According to the National Institute of Health, vitiligo is a pigmentation disorder that destroys the cells that make pigment in the skin. This causes patches of white to appear in different places around the body — even hair in those patches can sometimes turn white. Only about 0.5% to 1% of people have vitiligo and it typically starts to appear when someone is in their mid-20s. The NIH says genders and races are impacted equally, although it is obviously more prominent in someone with naturally dark skin.

It’s possible that the patches could spread to other parts of the body, and the NIH says some people will experience a slow spread over many years, but some people will experience it quickly. If looked at under a microscope, the white patches will have no pigment-producing cells. Vitiligo can be a very difficult condition to deal with emotionally, so there are many support groups and mental-health experts equipped to help patients with the disorder.

There are various treatments for vitiligo, and it’s up to the individual how drastically they want to treat it. Treatments range from drugs to light therapy to treatments that fade the pigment away from the rest of the skin. Some people may opt for surgical procedures, while others use cosmetics to cover up. Others simply let it be.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser