I am a Jamaican Canadian who never took no for an answer. I’m a woman. I’m a Black woman. I’m my mother’s child. I love my family, chosen and given. I never pass up an opportunity for a prank. I am all these things, and so much more, before what is happening with my skin.

I started developing vitiligo—an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the melanin-producing cells in skin and hair, causing depigmented patches—when I was 4. (The prevalence of vitiligo in the global population varies but is about 1 percent in the U.S.) It felt incredibly isolating as a child. I vividly recall being in third grade and trying to befriend two girls who would run away from me because their mothers didn’t want them to “catch” what I had, as if I were contagious.


A post shared by ♔Winnie Harlow♔ (@winnieharlow)

Thankfully, though, I grew up with a family who made me feel loved and worthy. They poured their energy into me endlessly, and I credit them with the confidence that I have today. If you know anything about Jamaican women, you know that we have no shortage of confidence. And it’s that self-esteem—not the promise of fame—that propelled me to achieve many firsts.

When I started modeling my whole life changed—suddenly, I was famous…as “the model with vitiligo”

I once thought I’d be a YouTuber (I’m still obsessed with YouTube; it’s how I learned to do my makeup and hair and where I learned to care for my skin). I didn’t want to do it to be famous. I just wanted to do it because I loved it. But then I started modeling, and my whole life changed—suddenly, I was famous…as “the model with vitiligo.”

I was the first person with the condition to walk the runway at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, I was featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, I’ve graced the cover of countless magazines around the world, and now I’m a global brand ambassador for Puma. For me, it has always been about saving money and making sure I could take care of myself and my family. The coolest aspect of fame is how many places I can go in the world.

But still, with all my successes, I’m most often asked in interviews about my vitiligo, how I was bullied when I was younger, how I was called a cow or a zebra. It’s frustrating because I’m also an adult who has lived a full life. And to be honest, I’ve dealt with way worse traumas than my skin condition. To put me into this one small box bothers me. I’m grateful to do what I love everyday, but I’m excited for people to talk about my next chapter of Winnie. It’s a new era anchored in activism, balance, and becoming a founder of my own skincare brand.


A post shared by Cay Skin ☀️ daily skincare with SPF by Winnie Harlow (@cayskin)

That brand is called Cay Skin, and after almost three years of testing, I launched it back in March. The idea came from a traumatic photo shoot I had in 2018. Nobody on set wanted me to reapply sunscreen because of the white cast that would show up in the photos. I ended up severely sunburned and needing medical attention for extreme pain and inflammation. The experience left me scarred physically and emotionally, and I knew I had to create a better SPF. I obsessed over every detail and now have a line of lightweight daily sun care products with powerful skincare ingredients like niacinamide and sea moss. They leave a really beautiful finish on all skin tones.

Shop the Cay Skin collection, here:

I know people still want to hear that ugly-duckling-to-swan tale, but I’m going to change that. It’s time to make people’s differences the norm. It’s time to reflect the world as it truly is—made up of people with various skin tones, body types, abilities, and cultural backgrounds.

I am so proud of the work that I’ve done to evolve the face of the beauty industry, both as a model and now as a Black female entrepreneur. I look forward to pushing for more change that puts Black women in the driver’s seat. I also really want to get into children’s books as a way to change people’s mindsets when it comes to diversity.

Sometimes I close my eyes and can hear my mother saying, “Winnie, you are so much more than just your cover. You are so much more than your vitiligo.” She was and is right. Some have tried to write my story as this brave woman who has pushed through adversity to show upas herself and become famous despite it, but I have never seen myself through that lens.

In fact, my skin has been one of my greatest gifts. It has taught me, from the time I was a little girl, to use it as a mega-phone: to be louder, prouder, and always fueled by passion and love. It’s helped me look beyond my own cover—and everyone else’s too.

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