After 12 years of hiding behind thick layers of makeup, former model Breanne Rice decided to come clean about the vitiligo that covers her face.
“In the last couple years, I decided I didn’t want to feel like this anymore,” she tells PEOPLE. “I spent my 20s feeling insecure and basing my self-worth on how I looked, and I didn’t want to look in the mirror and worry about not having perfect skin.”
Diagnosed at age 19 with the autoimmune disorder, Rice, now 31, spent the start of her modeling career worried about her skin.
“My face was everything, and I was constantly striving for perfection,” she says. “When I started to get really sick, I felt like I couldn’t control [the vitiligo]. And I didn’t want anyone to know about it.”
The vitiligo popped up suddenly overnight, beginning with a small, white patch the size of a dime underneath her left eye.
“It’s something that can happen to anyone, at anytime,” Rice says. “Your body starts attacking your own pigment cells. It’s your body turning against you.”
She discovered that part of the problem was her diet, and changed up what she ate to bring down the inflammation in her body.
And to hide the lost pigmentation, Rice would spend countless hours and money covering her face with a carefully calibrated formula of makeup.
“It gradually progressed,” she says. “I would put on a first layer of a very thick concealer to make it look like I had pigment. Then, I have naturally an olive skin tone, so I had to create a blend there. I felt like I had to cancel out all these things on my face to look normal. It was a long process everyday to get outside.”
But now, Rice, who’s working as a nutritional therapy practitioner in Seattle, is over hiding her skin. She made her largest public reveal about her vitiligo in an Instagram post in March, and was blown away by the support.
RELATED VIDEO: Lupita Nyong’o: I Used to Pray for Lighter Skin“It really spoke volumes that there are so many women who resonated with that post,” she says. “As a culture, we put so much emphasis on our outside appearance. For me seeing women build confidence, it really brought me joy.”
“It’s not about me – I want to make an impact on people’s lives in a positive way. We need to let go of that standard of beauty we have and learn to accept ourselves. And not find a value in what we look like.”