Woman With Rare Skin Condition Picks Up A Bobby Pin And Creates Skin-Drawing On Her Own Leg

by Kim Wong-Shing
Kim Wong-Shing is a staff writer at LittleThings. Her work spans beauty, wellness, pop culture, identity, food, and other topics. She is a contributing writer at NaturallyCurly, and her work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Lifehacker, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other outlets. She grew up in Philadelphia, attended Brown University, and is now based in New Orleans.

Melissa Tarntino, 47, suffers from a little-known skin condition called dermatographia, or “skin writing.” The condition causes her skin to form red welts from the slightest touch.

As a lifelong painter, Melissa has found a way to turn her condition into something positive: majestic body art.

Melissa simply uses her finger to trace flowers, trees, butterflies, and other peaceful scenes into her skin. Thanks to her condition, the designs become bright red and swollen, then fade after some time.

“It’s mostly doodling,” Melissa said, “but it really helps me express myself as an artist.”

By transforming her condition into something beautiful, Melissa also serves as inspiration to other people who suffer from “skin writing.” Around 5% of the world’s population has the condition.

“I never even used to think of drawing on myself, but I found that it was a way of truly embracing my condition,” Melissa said. “Many sufferers understandably choose to hide. I choose to put myself out there as an example that it’s OK to be different. At least I am able to make the best of it and have fun.”

That positive attitude goes a long way when you have such a challenging condition.

A lot of times I will get a major flare-up, and my skin, head to toe, feels like it is crawling, and it itches uncontrollably,” Melissa explained. “During a flare-up, just putting on clothes will cause my skin to itch and welt.” 

Still, Melissa embraces the ability to create art on her own skin.

“It truly is a gift to have. If I could get rid of every aspect of the condition except the ability to draw on myself, I would.”

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