Could Sammy Sosa’s Pale Appearance Be the Result of Vitiligo Brought on By Steroid Use?

A post that we made here on Friday afternoon regarding Sammy Sosa’s shockingly white appearance (hat tip again to Jimmy Traina) kicked off a flurry of activity around the web (for example: here, here, and here) and rightfully so.

The pictures are jarring.

It’s been a while since Sammy Sosa has been in the public eye, and we all remember a much darker version of him than what we are seeing in this current pictures. (Not to mention, as Big League Stew pointed out earlier this evening, when did Sammy start wearing green contacts?)

The obvious question in the immediate aftermath of these pictures making their way around the web is, what might be the root cause of Sammy’s paleness?

I decided to do a little digging — admittedly with a hypothesis that steroid use might have something to do with it — and found some interesting information.

Note 11/9: There has been a lot of traffic to this post and some very insightful and informed comments posted. Make sure you read the comments and take into account the fact that I’m not a doctor, but just an interested observer looking for explanations and trying to address the questions/comments I’m getting and reading.

Notice that I am not saying definitively that steroid use by Sammy caused whatever issue he’s going through now. And no one knows if it’s vitiligo, “skin rejuvenation”, etc. I just decided to search for some connection on the steroids angle and open up a forum for discussion since that was a lot of people’s first instinct.


Sammy Sosa with his wife at at a Person of the Year ceremony in honor of Juan Gabriel at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas on Nov. 4. (Getty Images)

Hypothesizing that vitiligo might be the root cause of Sammy’s white appearance was a pretty obvious initial direction, and pretty much everyone who has posted about this has mentioned vitiligo (a skin disorder that claims Michael Jackson as its most famous victim).

However, I always assumed that contracting vitiligo was all based on genetics and hereditary issues. The truth, as I’ve come to learn while researching tonight, is that scientists and doctors are still unsure exactly what causes vitiligo.

The prevailing hypothesis seems to be that genetics play a major role in one’s chances of experiencing vitiligo symptoms, but there is also plenty of empirical evidence to suggest that single events and/or lifestyle choices can contribute as well.

Furthermore, there appears to be at least some evidence suggesting that steroid use could be one of the lifestyle choices that increases a person’s likelihood of becoming symptomatic with vitiligo.

Quick aside: I am obviously not a doctor, nor have I done anything more detailed than sift through various Google searches looking for a possible connection between steroids and vitiligo. I am not posting this as an explicit endorsement of the idea, but rather because I found it interesting and thought you might too. I trust you to take the information and make up your own mind., as you might expect, purports itself to be “the world’s most visited anabolic website”.  According to Quantcast, get around 125K visitors per month. Not too shabby, especially when the discussions center around activities that are, for the most part, illegal.

I found two forum discussions in particular that seem to suggest a possible connection:

Posted in Anabolic Steroids Q&A: White Blotches / Skin Pigmentation

Initial post: I have just finished my third cycle, after the last 2 cycles blothces on my skin, mainly my face and head have appeared, almost like loss of pigment on my skin. It begins approx 3-4 weeks after I have finished my cycle. When my face goes red from exercise or whatever these blothces are increasingly more noticeable. Does anyone have an idea what is causing this? Or can anyone recommend anything to combat it?

Forum poster response: Fluctuating hormones as the cause would be my guess. Do some google searches on vitiligo and hormones, testosterone, thyroid, etc. You’ll find some info out there.

Posted in Member’s Cycle Results: Melanotan and vitiligo

Initial post: Hi all i have a mate with vitiligo he has white hair eye brows and facial hair and white patches all over his skin. This started about 5 years ago and he has had a hard time with it!

The website also has a steroid forum where the topic of vitiligo has come up, in this case with a guy asking specifically about white splotches on his penis. Here is one of the responses:

in addition to the other comments here, i’d consider getting your estradiol and test levels checked, ur hormones can effect ur pheomelanin and eumelanin levels. and check if ur diet might be high in phytoestrogens or other endocrine disruptors.

Obviously I do not frequent these forums so I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of the posters I am excerpting here. And a couple of discussions about vitiligo in a couple of steroid forums does not draw a direct line between steroid use, vitiligo, and Sammy Sosa’s apparent Michael Jackson starter kit.

However, here are a few more things that we do know about vitiligo:

From (and echoed numerous places elsewhere) regarding the use of anabolic steroids:

Notify your doctor if you develop: vomiting, skin color changes, swelling of the feet or ankles.

From regarding the prevalence of vitiligo, which is far more prevalent than I thought:

Vitiligo affects up to 2% of the population, and it is estimated that two to five million Americans have the condition. In most cases, vitiligo develops early in life, between the ages of ten and 30 years. Ninety-five per cent of those affected will develop the disorder before age 40.

For the record, Sammy Sosa turns 41 on November 12th of this year.

And finally, from regarding one of the common treatments of vitiligo, which will sound familiar to many Michael Jackson fans:

Depigmentation may be an option for you if you have vitiligo that covers more than half of your skin. Depigmentation therapy lightens the unaffected parts of your skin to match the areas that have already turned white. For this treatment, you apply a medication called monobenzene ether of hydroquinone twice a day to the areas of your skin that still have pigment. Treatment continues until the darker areas of your skin match the already-depigmented areas.

Ultimately, the only conclusion I can make is that there really is no definite conclusion to make. All we have are pictures to go off of. And while they may say 1,000 words, they aren’t telling us specifically what is going on with Sammy’s skin color.

Certainly the general consensus of the sports blogosphere is that Sammy is dealing with vitiligo or something like it, but we’re sports bloggers…not doctors.

I’ve tried my best to do some learning tonight so that I can at least discuss the topic in an informed manner, which I feel an obligation to do since I helped to give the story some momentum earlier this afternoon.

For me, the most intriguing question is if we will find out anything regarding whether Sammy’s confirmed steroid use might have contributed to whatever he is dealing with now.  Something tells me we won’t, and that this story will fade as we move into the weekend and get distracted by football.

However, if there is a connection, can you imagine how powerful of a statement to young athletes Sammy Sosa could make without even saying a word?

If the road this story ultimately travels manifests some connection between steroids and vitiligo (or skin pigmentation changes in general), it will just add one more layer in the case that can be made to young people imploring them to stay away from PEDs.

There is a certain level of vanity required for someone to make the decision to use steroids. No one with any semblance of vanity can look at these pictures of Sammy Sosa and not be both shocked and a little horrified.

Then again, maybe Sammy had dressed up as a vampire for Halloween the weekend before these pictures were taken and just hadn’t showered yet. For his sake, I hope so.

I just doubt it strongly, along with everyone else I’ve seen post about this tonight.

Update 9/9: The Chicago Tribune got ahold of a former Cubs employee who is still in contact with Sosa and says that Sammy is “not trying to be Michael Jackson.” Rather, he is supposedly going through a skin rejuvenation process that “women have…all of the time.”


* – Sammy Sosa photo credit: Getty Images via Big League Stew

About Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.


  1. Damn, your sure your research!

    Its funny how his hair is permed too and everything, he has all the white guy set!

  2. this is absurd conjecture.

    • It is certainly conjecture, but is it really absurd?

      Sosa is a confirmed steroid user and many people I've conversed with about this story immediately wondered whether steroid use could be a precursor for what we're seeing now with Sosa. Based on what I found, and included above, there is really no conclusion to make. Just some vague connections. But I don't think looking into it is absurd. Saying "steroid use will make your skin white" would be absurd.

      Who knows what the cause is for Sosa's radical change. And I doubt we'll ever really find out, so all we have is conjecture at this point.

  3. Skin colour change can occur as a result of jaundice from the hepatotoxicity of methylated oral steroids. Melanotan is not a steroid, it's a tanning agent.
    This article is poorly researched nonsense.

    • Henry, thanks for the knowledge. I wasn't trying to say above that melanotan was a steroid, that's just what the forum post was under.

      As I said, I don't know for sure whether steroid use can cause vitiligo or vitiligo-like symptoms, but I wanted to at least post some of the connections I found. I'm hoping that people more in the know than me will use the comment section to put forth anything they know on the topic. Because one thing I do know is that many sports fans will immediately make the connection in their own minds, considering Sammy's checkered past with respect to steroids. I'm hoping we can provide as much info on the topic and question as possible.

    • If the Mets sign Sammy, he would be the whitest guy on the team.

  4. Jerod – there's no evidence that anabolic steroids cause vitiligo. Patches? Sure, but there doesn't appear to be the light and dark shading evident in vitiligo. Sammy's just lighter. The thing to really note is that if A=B, you don't expect B to happen years later, after A has likely stopped. I doubt that Sammy's still using steroids now. (Possible? Sure.) If so, why wouldn't we have seen some evidence of this change years ago, during the heaviest usage?

    • That's a great point, and I certainly defer to your expertise on a topic such as this. And the timing is probably something I did not weigh enough. Such symptoms probably would have been more prevalent during the height of his steroid usage and I know of no evidence that suggests this.

      Sent from my iPhone

  5. I'm thinking sammy has always had green eyes….it was just very hard to tell when he had darker skin…yes darker skinned ppl can have lighter colored eyes!!!!

  6. Strickly Chicks says:

    I dont know, maybe Sammy was the guinea pig for the "new" roid back in 1999

  7. All of this goes to vindicate Michael Jackson. Has it occured to any of you that Sammy Sosa may have had to take steriods to deal with a vitiligo condition and probably used makeup to cover up the lighter patches and then subsequently underwent depigmentation just like Michael Jackson?

    The trouble with most people that are commenting and jumping to conclusions is that you don't have the facts yet you speak with such conviction as if you know all the answers.

    There is a lot regarding genetics that we all do not know. One of the things that you all need to realize is that most people with mixed African and European ancestry have light and dark patches on their skin so there is nothing like a 100% even skin tone. This is the reason why we occasionally see genetic aberrations such as a dark-colored child from white parents or a caucasian (white) child from parents that are presumably all African (dark-colored). Until you have all the facts and until you go through all of Sammy's photos to see the changes, please hold your judgment.

  8. BTW, I don't believe that most black people want to lose their pigmentation so that they can become white. Not having any pigmentation is akin to being an "albino" which can result in serious burns from sun exposure and other unpleasant skin conditions. Also, the resulting transparent looking skin color is not particularly attractive so I am not sure why anyone would want to go through a lot of hassle in order to have a transluscent skin color.

  9. we are guys paying to much att to his skin color………….lets just look at the sweet barbie girl his wife is. (she is hot) . hey sammy……where can i get one of those man?

  10. Dan from NY says:

    To the person who said Sosa may have taken steroids because of vitiligo, that is ridiculous. Steroids are not a known or accepted treatment for the disease.

    To the person who said that Sosa never had any patchiness … how would you know? He could have concealed it with makeup in June when he was shot by a photographer showing his skin color was dark. This photo is circulating on the web along with the latest one where he is white, and if you look closely at that photo there are areas of his skin that look strangely orange (see above his cheeks, under his eyes) and uneven. People with vitiligo commonly use makeup to cover up and that's what Michael Jackson did for years before finally turning white. Even now, Sosa may be using makeup to cover up vestiges of his formerly dark skin.

    Whatever the cause of his skin condition — and I think steroids are a legitimate conjecture — I feel bad for him and wish him well. It must be hell to go through something like this.

    • Dan, finally someone writes a post that makes sense and isn't completely ignorant! I am a 27 year old white female with a few patches of vitiligo. I noticed my first white spot 5 years ago and was completely devastated. You are right, we don't know if Sosa has been suffering and covering up his vitiligo all this time. I cover up my white spots and the majority of my friends have no idea I have the disease. I wish him well too. I can't imagine being a dark skinned person, especially in the lime light, suffering from this disease. I hope he comes out and talks about the disease if this is the cause. People need to be more educated and stop assuming so much about people who suffer with it.

  11. JustMaria says:

    I think most of the people who have posted a comment here must be unaware of the issues with skin color that many Domincans have. Not one person posits that he may have done this to himself on purpose. Wake up people! Centuries of domination, imperialism, slavery, colonialism have had a lasting impact on many of the world's populations. If Sammy has Vitiligo, then why did he get green contacts? I think he wants to appear white because he honestly thinks it will make him more attractive.

    If you are not a person of color then you may not be aware of just how deep intra-racism is within certain cultures. It's not just blacks, it's Asians, S.E. Asians almost every people of color around the globe struggles with this issue. Many of them don't reisist it, they see nothing wrong with it. If you think this is all meaningless conjecture. Check out this NPR piece on Colorism in the Caribbean:

  12. This article is laughably horrible and would fit in more on It is a true example of poorly researched Internet "journalism." I'll place a high wager that the author of this article has no education in journalism.

    • Your opinion is appreciated and duly noted. And you would be correct…the author, me, does not have a formal background in journalism. I am blogger whose goal is to create a public forum for discussion about topics I think my readership will be intrigued and entertained by. I wasn't trying to write a perfect article, just address a question I was hearing with info readily available. And it's worked, as we've gotten numerous well informed and insightful comments. Including yours.

      Sent from my iPhone

  13. Dan from NY says:

    JustMaria — I don't see how racism in the DR could lead to someone trying to change his skin color to totally white and no where in the article you linked to does it mention such drastic measures. Straightening or lightening one's hair is one thing. But to use the heavy chemicals and medications necessary to turn one's skin totally white is quite another. Besides, he looks like death warmed over right now — or like he's wearing a Halloween mask — and WORSE than he did when his skin was dark. So it's hard to see how his current look is a result of choice. And I don't see how wearing colored contacts — if indeed he even is — would mean he doesn't have vitiligo. No, I think he definitely has the skin disease.

  14. Gimme A Break says:

    I wish these "journalists" would be responsible and do some RESEARCH before they print these things. If a writer's not willing to do a little legwork on something this simple, what about the big stuff. I do not trust the media.

    VITILIGO DOES NOT HAPPEN LIKE THIS. IT IS NOT DIFFICULT TO FIND ACCURATE INFORMATION ON THIS ILLNESS. There is not one skin disorder that would change a person's skin color so fast. Further, skin is the body's largest organ. If someone's skin is this badly affected by something then their general health would not be good either. He wouldn't be going to events and taking pictures. He would be sick.

    This is not vitiligo or any skin illness. He is bleaching and clearly proud of it. But he looks like an extra in Thriller, ironically. Looks like a corpse.

    • I don't think people were citing vitiligo saying it would have transformed his entire complexion. I think many people, with their initial reactions shaded by Michael Jackson, felt that Sammy may have had splotches of pigmentation loss due to vitiligo and then underwent treatment to lighten his skin as a result. I suppose we'll never know if this is the case or not. There was a statement yesterday that he is doing some type of skin treatment and didn't mean for it to turn his skin so light. But who knows.

    • Powerply184 says:

      it's got to be bleaching. a lot of blacks latino hate the african part of their makeup its sad. Yes i am black dark and proud.

  15. steroid use? wtf!! morons….let's blame it something huh?'s simple you idiots..he doesn't want to appear to be black..he bleached his skin, that's it, nothing more, nothing less.

  16. irvin reyes says:

    he just wants to be white. all his skin is white and even has the permed hair. saw him live last week on Latin Grammys and damn did he change. why sammy? why?

  17. as a dominican woman i cant not believe what he did!!!!!!!!!!! is a shame.

  18. Fred Salinas says:

    he's looking more like the late Michael Jackson…

  19. If in fact Sammy Sosa does have vitiligo it is not a laughing matter, vitiligo is very depressing and embarrassing for most people. It is an uncontrollable skin condition where the melanocytes (the cells that produce the pigment) are destroyed by what scientists think is the autoimmune system.
    Scientists believe that the autoimmune system recognizes these melanocytes as a harming possibly bacteria like growth that needs to be destroyed. It is literally a glitch in the body and it is a total mystery as to why and how it starts and there is NO cure for vitiligo. So often, people that are 80-90% covered with the white patches usually have the rest of their skin lightened to make one's skin completely uniformed.

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  1. […] Sammy’s new pale look could be the result of vitiligo-like symptoms caused by steroid use. nuffnang_bid = "29b0e859e7d6525afdc2e6fff8dfac8f"; blog […]

  2. […] While no cause has been established at this time, the web site Midwest Sports Fans speculates that steroid use could be responsible: There appears to be at least some evidence suggesting that steroid use could be one of the […]

  3. […] conjecture that Sosa may have vitiligo triggered by steroid use is gathering comments around the […]

  4. […] I buy it.  There has also been some speculation that the steroids may have caused it.  I could buy that too.  No explanation has come out yet regarding the green contacts, […]

  5. […] As you know, retired baseball player Sammy Sosa was recently photographed with decidedly lighter-looking skin, causing many in the media to wonder whether his pale appearance was the result of illness or a deliberate attempt to alter his complexion. Some possible explanations for Sosa’s new look that have been batted about include vitiligo,  a disorder that causes depigmentation and, more cynically, the use of steroids. […]

  6. […] While no cause has been established at this time, the web site Midwest Sports Fans speculates that steroid use could be responsible: There appears to be at least some evidence suggesting that steroid use could be one of the […]

  7. My Daily Joe says:

    […] While no cause has been established at this time, the web site Midwest Sports Fans speculates that steroid use could be responsible: There appears to be at least some evidence suggesting that steroid use could be one of the […]

  8. […] lighter skin has everyone talking. The second coming of Michael Jackson? Side effects of steroid use? A man running away from his ethnic identity? Or just a brother who’s willing to go a long […]

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