Something happened to Michael Jackson’s Skin between the “Thriller” and “Bad” Albums.  It changed from a chocolate brown color to an alabaster white over a period of about 5 years, which was apparently complete by 13 years.   The striking change was just one of many mysteries the singer/performer and ingenue was known for.  And, of course, it elicited a large amount of interest, inquiry and speculation.   Was this the result of a skin disorder and medical illness?  Or was it the result of a deliberate body modification and skin alteration like skin bleaching?   The truth behind Michael Jackson’s white skin is more complex than meets the eye.   This blog post seeks to answer this question based on evidence and fact, since it was never fully addressed by the singer himself.   And based on the review of evidence and fact, the answer is pretty obvious.

. The truth behind Michael Jackson’s white skin is more complex than meets the eye
Something happened to Michael Jackson’s skin between the “Thriller” album and “The Bad” Album. It turned White. The truth behind Michael Jackson’s white skin is more complex than meets the eye.


Michael Jackson was a master of re-invention, out of design and out of necessity.  Not only did he essentially set a new standard for excellence Pop music production in Thriller, but he also created a visual esthetic and presentation that changed the way Pop artists and musicians make their artistic expression and express themselves.   This was especially important for Jackson, whom like other Black musicians, found resistance to accessing the larger entertainment market outside of R&B and Soul music.   Prior to “Thriller”, Black artists were confined to Black Radio.  In addition, they were not included into the new burgeoning Video Music Platform ,MTV, which was the next generation of music market expansion and the lucrative prospects for unknown artists who would end up being discovered in this visual adaptation of music media.

Much like the segregated times that Jackson was born into, he entered a similarly segregated music industry in the 1960s which limited exposure, success, earning potential and marketshare, unlike his white entertainer counterparts.  With these limitations, he along with his brothers were able to captivate audiences and, as a result, experienced what most of his white counterparts did not:  Success beyond expectation.  This success was simply fueled by his precocious talent, extreme discipline, physical and emotional abuse and work ethic.  And with the help of his strict father and the guidance of Motown Head Berry Gordy, his talent and drive overcame barriers related to the color of his skin and those barriers were forced to yield.

The Jackson 5 were among the most successful Black groups in Music despite racial discrimination barriers.
The Jackson 5 was among the most successful Black groups in Music despite racial discrimination barriers.

To be clear, it was no simple undertaking.  He had to assimilate the dichotomy of having to jump higher and further, and having to be better, just to achieve “one-half” of the success of his white counterparts.   This is a considerable psychological jiujitsu for the mind of a child to have to perform and internalize to make it seem normal.  Arm-chair psychologists and pundits have all concluded that it was this maelstrom of non-sequitir and inequity that created psychic conflicts in the mind of this Jackson child, which later became responsible for his egocentricity and frankly, genius, as a young man and adult.

Part of young Michael Jackson’s response to the conflict provided from his external environment was to be “perfect”; to serve the market everything it wanted in the exact way it wanted.  To be “twice” as good, he had to sing better than “Sinatra”, dance better than “Astaire”, and be more handsome than “Elvis”, yet appear unobjectionable and unthreatening to a larger audience that was very hostile to young Black men.  He also had to mute any potential controversial opinions on Civil Rights that could easily derail his career, and any hint of sexuality or masculinity that would pose a threat to a “post-Emmit Till” reality. He and he alone had to figure out the equation for a plane on which to exist and navigate that curve blindly because there was no real predecessor or guidance beyond what the Berry Gordy refinement and finishing school at Motown could give him.

Michael Jackson gave himself no room to fail.  Yet, his environment did provide lots of well-established obstacles:  An abusive father.  A Voice change.  An acne problem affecting his skin like almost all adolescents. Yet unlike most adolescents, his skin problem had to be managed in the full view of a judgmental public.  And most concerning of all of things, evolving into a mature, undeniable Black man in a world that valued and continues to emphasize a Eurocentric standard of beauty inflicted on the Black diaspora by colonialism.  That beauty standard included a thin nose, small lips and white skin.

The Eurocentric Standard of beauty includes a thin nose, thin lips and white skin.
The Eurocentric Standard of beauty includes a thin nose, thin lips and white skin.

Some people have accused Michael Jackson of being vapid and self-loathing, but there is no evidence that he hated his people or hated Black skin.  The evidence supports the opposite.  He was very inclusive in the diversity in culture and skin color in much of his visual expressions of his art.  It is also reductive to conclude the alteration in his skin color was simply a “business decision”.  The truth of behind Michael Jackson’s white skin is that it was a reasonable response to all of the factors and circumstances he dealt with.  It was simply the lemonade he made with the lemons he had.

The Truth Behind Michael Jackson's White Skin
The Truth Behind Michael Jackson’s White Skin

How do we know what happened to his skin?

In order to reach a reasonable conclusion about what turned Michael Jackson’s skin white, we have to review the available evidence and facts and weigh their credibility.

The evidence and facts available to us are:

  1. Michael Jackson’s statements
  2. The Statements of his Michael Jackson’s Doctor
  3. The Statements by people who knew Michael Jackson best, and have no motivation to be dishonest
  4. The Autopsy Findings and Death Scene Information


The conclusions based on this information do answer the question.

Michael Jackson’s statements

Michael Jackson responded to the speculation about his skin changes in a now legendary interview with Oprah Winfrey from 1993, where he addressed a number of personal issues of interest to his fans and a curious public.

Here is an excerpt of this interview.


Michael is clear about the reason behind the change in his skin.

Oprah asks about the undeniable fact that his skin became lighter.  He clearly states “I have a skin disorder.  It destroys the pigmentation of the skin.  It is something I can’t help.”

To my mind, his own personal statement is the most important piece of evidence. He said what he said. We can use that statement, whether or not it is true or a lie, to align the external evidence we encounter.

Adding to the credibility of having the skin disorder, Vitiligo, is the fact that “it ran in his father’s family.” And his brother Jermaine suffered from a type of it.  This lends itself to the truth of Jackson’s statement about this being a medical condition, and not purely an act of vanity or hatred of his racial background.


What is less credible is his statement that:

“There is no such thing as skin bleaching.  I’ve never seen it.   I don’t know what it is”.

He had to know about the multiple products available for Black women to bleach their skin dating backs to the early 1900s.   Advertisements for skin bleaching products were present in every magazine for Black people (EBONY Magazine, Jett Magazine) which were the same magazines which Jackson and his brothers had been prominently featured in for most of their lives at that point.

Michael Jackson appearing on the cover of Ebony Magazine as a child and as an adult
Michael Jackson appearing on the cover of Ebony Magazine as a child and as an adult


Nadinola Skin lightener ad typical of advertisements present in Black oriented Magazines
Nadinola Skin lightener ad typical of advertisements present in Black oriented Magazines

He then lies about not using any skin lightening or skin bleaching products.  That is simply not supported by evidence or fact.

Then he becomes really defensive about the motivations which does point to insecurity and a psychological conflict.  There may be awareness of what the criticism looks like to others and there may be some scintilla of truth.  He does however reinforce his PRIDE in being a Black American.  This seems consistent and credible.  He could have just as easily shown his disdain of Black people.  But that is not what he did.  Black people were his core audience and foundational audience.  He knew that and was grateful. He likely thought his own personal esthetic was improved with this complexion, which is also people who darken their skin by tanning.  It doesn’t mean they hate being white or European.  It means they think they look better, and that is their prerogative.


The Statements of his Michael Jackson’s Doctor

Michael Jackson was under the care of a number of doctors.  In addition to Plastic Surgeons, who was responsible for the alteration of his features, like his chin, cheeks and nose to conform to a Eurocentric beauty standard.  He was also under the care of a dermatologist.   Dr. Arnold Klein was Michael Jackson’s dermatologist, confidant, and friend.   Dr. Klein, who was an Attending Dermatologist, Internal Medicine Specialist and Adjunct Professor at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, was one of the key developers of the injectable Hyaluronic Acid Dermal Filler to enlarge lips.  Silicone injections had been used for this purpose previously.   Dr. Klein was also the force behind the “Black Box” warning that is currently included on “BOTOX”, he also maintained a thriving practice in Beverly Hills California which included an exclusive celebrity, international and wealthy clientele.  Cher, Elizabeth Taylor, Carrie Fisher and many others were among his trusted clients and patients, and they readily acknowledged his skill and clinical acumen in optimizing their youthful appearances which extended their careers.

Dr. Arnold Klein was a Dermatologist whose practice included celebrities, including Liz Taylor and Michael Jackson.
Dr. Arnold Klein was a Dermatologist whose practice included celebrities, including Liz Taylor and Michael Jackson.

Dr. Arnold Klein also has the distinction of being one of the first clinicians to identify “Kaposi’s sarcoma”, a rare skin cancer, in a very ill homosexual man at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. It is characterized by round, purplish plaque lesions covering the skin.  On autopsy, these lesions also cover the surface of visceral organs Kaposi’s up to that point was almost only seen in severely immunocompromised people, typically of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry or people who were taking anti-rejection medication for organ transplants.   But it quickly became one of the identifying illness and opportunistic infections signaling AIDS in men who had no obvious Jewish heritage.  The significance of the finding of this uncommon associated illness was that it suggested a relationship to a pathologic mechanism that had yet to be elucidated.  Immunocompromise, or the lack of a competent immune system, was the process that was making young Gay men deathly ill.   It would take years of investigation to determine that a virus that affected and destroyed a specific subset of Immune cells (CD4+ T cells) was the pathogen that caused AIDS.  That virus is now known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).  And we now know that Kaposi’s sarcoma is a Herpesvirus family member (Human Herpesvirus-8, HH-8), that the Ashkenazi Jewish community had a genetic susceptibility to.  In HIV with the absence of the ability to fight bacterial, fungal and viral infections, the same virus could essentially create the Kaposi’s Syndrome Tumors in anyone who became significantly immunosuppressed.

At the home of his friend, Elizabeth Taylor, one evening, Dr. Arnold Klein, Dr. Malthilde Krim and Ms. Taylor created the organization that would be known as amFAR.  American Foundation for AIDS Research, is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of AIDS-related public policy.  To date, it has raised upwards of a quarter of a billion dollars to combat AIDS, which is more than any other charitable organization.

Dr. Klein made public statements about Michael Jackson’s skin disorder after Jackson’s death.  His intentions in so doing were to bring an end to speculation about what had happened and to repair the legacy of his patient and friend, which had been significantly tarnished by a variety of other scandals, questions, and legal entanglements.  Klein stated publicly that Michael suffered from Vitiligo.  This was documented as far back as 1984.   And Jackson also suffered from the autoimmune condition, lupus (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus- SLE).


What is Vitiligo?

In a nutshell, Vitiligo is a skin disorder characterized by depigmentation, or loss of pigmentation, of the skin, just as Michael Jackson stated in the Oprah Winfrey interview.  It affects as many as 1 out of 250 people and is believed to be related to dysregulation of a person’s immune system, whereby the person’s immune system targets and attacks the melanin producing cells, in at least some people with the diagnosis.  It is clearer that there are genetic factors that lead to a predisposition to develop the condition, and that there are others who develop the condition secondary to a known environmental exposure.  

Most vitiligo sufferers begin seeing depigmentation changes or white spots between the ages of 10 and 30.   Michael Jackson was 24 when he reported the condition began.  Further, Jackson and his doctor acknowledge the genetic susceptibility on his father’s side of the family and the fact that his older brother Jermaine suffers a less extensive version of the condition that Michael apparently had.  Clearly, vitiligo is more noticeable on dark skinned people that it is on people with light complexions.

Under the microscope, skin affected by vitiligo shows an absence of melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) in the basal layer of the epidermis layer. And in some cases, depending on whether the vitiligo is focal (Segmental Vitiligo) or expansive (Non-segmental Vitiligo) or mixed, Immune cells, most notably CD8+ may be seen attacking the melanocytes in this layer.  Cytokines (Interferons and Tumor Necrosis Factors) may also be identified in these areas to varying degrees, made visible by immunohistochemistry staining techniques specific for each signal molecule.

Whether immunohistochemistry or simple histopathology (tissue stained without antibody to identify specific protein present on the slide) is applied to the pathologic specimen, changes in vitiligo can be indistinguishable from people without vitiligo who use bleaching agents.  This is because Bleaching agents act by tagging melanocyte proteins and binding to them and inducing a reaction by the immune system, as they recognize the tagged melanocyte proteins as foreign.  This means there will be many cases where histologic or immunohistochemical examination of skin tissue sections will not be able to conclude whether a person has vitiligo or whether they use bleaching agent


There have been occasions where workers in selected industries developed vitiligo-like changes due to exposure of chemical compounds.  For example, the skin lightener Kojic Acid came to be used in the cosmeceutical industry after workers in the Japanese SAKE industry developed depigmentation or reduced pigmentation in their hands after contact with the chemicals products associated with the production of this Japanese wine made from fermented rice.

Vitiligo may be limited in the areas of skin it affects, focal, or it may affect a large portion of the body, Vitiligo universalis, as it progresses over a protracted period of time.  It is presumed that the latter version is the type that Michael had.  As the condition progresses, patients must decide on how they will manage this change in their appearance.  Some sufferers will feel disfigured and grotesque and will act to conceal and camouflage the disorder.  This will include wearing sleeves and high collars to conceal lesions of the arms and neck.  Michael wore sleeves in situations where it would not have been necessary.   People who develop involvement of the hand or hands, may opt to wear gloves to detract attention.

Autoimmune conditions like Lupus/SLE are in fact associated with Vitiligo, although not causative.   They may be present in up to 15% of vitiligo sufferers.



The Statements by people who knew Michael Jackson best, and have no motivation to be dishonest

When vitiligo involves the face, it presents an unfortunate problem. Some people embrace the condition. Others, however, are highly motivated to conceal it.   Such strategies include makeup concealers to cover the affected area and extension of the makeup (foundation) to conceal the concealer.   There is ample evidence that Jackson employed this strategy for many years to cover these lesions, according to people in his circle, specifically his makeup artist and stylist.  Those people also are on record saying that eventually the strategy to cover up light patches became too intensive as the depigmented areas become larger and more expansive.  So, Jackson made the conscious decision to bleach the areas.  In so doing, the inordinate amount of time he expended to cover his exposed areas with dark makeup would be less intensive.

In conversations I personally had with Dr. Arnold Klein about 2-3 years after Jackson’s death, he verified this being the strategy.  He also named the agents he was prescribed in order to affect the changes.  These agents were also found in Jackson’s Neverland home following his death.

Actress Cicely Tyson, a friend of Jackson’s, said the two shared a fashion designer in the 1980s.  She notes that the idea of Michael Jackson’s trademark sequined glove was actually a response to the vitiligo condition that began on his hands.

“All of a sudden, he said, ‘I’m doing this glove for Michael,’ ” she said. “Michael was beginning to develop the vitiligo and it started on his hand.

“The glove was to cover the vitiligo; that’s how that glove came into being.”

The glove design and reason for it were not just hearsay for Tyson, she said.

“I was there when he was creating it,” she told CNN’s Don Lemon.

His hands are an interesting topic, in that he may have also been covering another issue.  The use of certain skin lighteners, such as hydroquinone at high concentrations may cause a condition called pseudo-ochronosis.  One of the tell-tale signs of Hydroquinone use at high concentrations for long periods of time is staining of the fingernails.

Here are pictures of Michael Jacksons hands, which exhibit the typical staining seen with Hydroquinone use:

Michael Jackson's hands show evidence of pseudo-ochronosis staining that occurs with high concentrations of the skin lightener Hydroquinone.
Michael Jackson’s hands show evidence of pseudo-ochronosis staining that occurs with high concentrations of the skin lightener Hydroquinone.

Michael Jackson was very sensitive to this nail staining, and outside of glove use, which he used on either hand was taping of his fingers so the darkened fingernails could not be seen.

Michael Jackson use tape to conceal staining of his fingernails, possibly due to Hydroquinone-induced pseudo-ochronosis
Michael Jackson use tape to conceal staining of his fingernails, possibly due to Hydroquinone-induced pseudo-ochronosis


Evidence contrary to the presence of vitiligo has also been offered by people close to Michael Jackson.  His collaborator and co-producer Quincy Jones famously disclosed his objections to Michael Jackson’s self-induced skin alterations and facial modifications:

When asked by Vulture magazine what was most understood about his artist and collaborator whom he had known at least as far back as since the move “The WIZ”, Jones replied:

“I used to kill him about the plastic surgery, man. He’d always justify it and say it was because of some disease he had. Bullsh*t.”

Quincy Jones also noted that Jackson ascribed the skin lightening phenomenon he was experiencing to “Chemical Peels”.  Whereas chemical peels are able to produce a brightening effect on skin, they will not cause a bleaching effect on dark skin.  It should be noted that Quincy Jones has no medical background.

And besides, Michael allowed himself to be photographed where the spots unaffected by the vitiligo and where he was attempting the fade them by depigmentation creams was apparent:

Michael Jackson Vitiligo
Michael Jackson Vitiligo


Michael Jackson Vitiligo
Michael Jackson Vitiligo



The Autopsy Findings and Death Scene Information

The benefit of autopsy findings is that can answer questions about a personal medical history, current health status death without having to rely on the veracity of the individual reporting their own history.  Similarly, evidence gathered from the death scene of an individual can often provide factual evidence that complements an incomplete story.  We are now privy to have elements of both sets of information to answer the question surrounding what turned Michael Jackson’s skin white.

The 56-page Autopsy report of Michael Jackson’s death and Death Certificate can be found here. 

MIchael Jackson Death Certificate
Michael Jackson Death Certificate

Michael Jackson’s final autopsy report was dated 8-19-2009.  He was pronounced dead at 2:26pm on June 26, 2009.  That day began at 1:00am with a phone call to his concierge physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, a cardiologist by training, who had been hired by LIVE NATION concert promoters to assist Jackson with his medical and comfort issues, including pain and insomnia.   The physician responded to Jackson’s call to come to the home he had been renting while partaking in grueling and strenuous practice rehearsals for a Major comeback tour, “This Is It”, at the LA Forum coliseum.   Jackson complained of sleeplessness.  Shortly after the doctor’s arrival, he was intubated with an endotracheal tube and administered an anesthetic, Propofol, primarily used to induce sleep in patients undergoing surgery.   Dr. Conrad Murray was neither a licensed nor trained anesthesiologist or anesthetist.   Michael Jackson went to sleep for a period 10 hours.  During this period, Jackson was not monitored by devices or a human monitor, which is required for the administration of medications which depress respiration and affect blood pressure in a patient.  Jackson was found unresponsive at 11 am, a full 10 hours since his induction.  His oxygen tank was empty.  CPR was initiated and later 911 was called.  Resuscitative efforts were continued as his body was transported to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and continued for more than one hour until he was pronounced dead at 2:26 Pacific time.

Evidence gathered from Michael Jackson’s rented home included a tube of Benoquin 20% cream. Benoquin is a trade name of Monobenyl Ether of Hydroquinone (MBEH or Monobenzone), the most potent prescription bleaching agent available.  Monobenzone and may be found in concentrations of 10%, 20%, 40%, 60% and 80%.  It is an FDA-approved treatment for vitiligo. It is the medication that Dr. Arnold Klein mentioned in my phone conversation with him, adding credence to the diagnosis he offered, and that Michael stated.

Also found was a tube of “BQ/KA/RA” (Benoquin 8%, Kojic acid 1%, and retinoic acid 0.025%), another effective formulation for Benoquin/MBEH that includes an additional lightening agent (Kojic Acid) and a potent retinoid medication to stimulate rapid skin turnover.   A container of hydroquinone 8% lotion (which would help to lighten any remaining pigment) was also retrieved as well as UVA Anthelios XL sunscreen, an over-the-counter product used by people to protect depigmented skin from the sun rays.


Autopsy findings included the description of a thin, frail man of 50 years of age.  He was 5’9 and weighed 136 lbs.   Jackson’s lips were tattooed pink, while his eyebrows were tattooed a dark hue. The front of his scalp was also tattooed black, apparently to blend his hairline in with the wigs he wore.   He was balding in the crown of his head and had damage to his scalp from an unfortunate pyrotechnic accident which occurred while filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984, leading to skin grafts and unsuccessful scalp skin expansion.

The deputy medical examiner at the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office who conducted Michael Jackson’s autopsy, Dr. Christopher Rogers, confirmed that Jackson indeed suffered from vitiligo, most noticeably with patches around his face, chest, abdomen, and arms.  It is not known whether immunohistochemistry staining of the skin was done on the pathologic examination of the skin sections.  The only references to the skin pathologic examination was on pages 17 and 38 of Michael Jackson’s autopsy report.

Page 17 calls attention to a large area of hyperpigmentation measuring 5 x 2.5 inches on his anterior shin.   By contrast, there were Focal depigmentated areas on his abdomen, chest, face and arms.

Michael Jackson Autopsy Report
Michael Jackson Autopsy Report


On Page 38, the report reads “Sections of the Skin (Slide U) show no melanocytic pigment.  Melanocytes are present, although reduced in number.  The skin is otherwise unremarkable.  No scar or suture material is present.

Michael Jackson Autopsy Report
Michael Jackson Autopsy Report



Those 2 entries provide the facts and evidence which answers the question concerning the truth behind Michael Jackson’s white skin:

Hopefully, this discussion has made you wiser and in a position to make better choices on your skin lightening journey.

Please Visit Skinsurrection website, for our list of effective rapid skin lighteners products,  Skinsurrection on Facebook or IG for some additional information and options.








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