Superstar Michael Jackson. Actor Jon Hamm. Fashion model Winnie Harlow. All three had or currently have vitiligo. It's a condition that causes the skin to lose pigment, leaving white patches behind. Researchers are now testing a topical cream designed to safely repigment areas of skin.
Every time Barbara Hamilton steps outside, she covers up. She's ultra-sensitive to the sun. It's one side effect of the skin condition vitiligo. Hamilton first noticed a white patch on her leg when she was 25.
"When it hit my face, my forehead, that's when I got really concerned about that," said Hamilton.
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Over the years, Hamilton tried medication and lightbox therapy to restore color. Nothing worked for long.
"I did repigment to some degree," Hamilton explained. "But as I was repigmenting other areas were depigmenting."
"Even though so many people suffer from vitiligo, there are currently no FDA approved treatments to repigment vitiligo," said Dr. David Rosmarin Vice-Chair of Research and Education, Department of Dermatology from Tufts Medical Center.
Rosmarin led a clinical trial of a topical cream to reverse vitiligo. Patients applied the cream, ruxolitinib twice a day for six months. Half of the patients had improvement on their faces.
"We're also optimistic that with continued use, so when you hit the year mark and beyond that there will be even more patients who repigment significantly," said Rosmarin.
Over the past 16 years, Hamilton says her face has depigmented. Although she was not part of doctor Rosmarin's trial, she spends her time in retirement advocating for vitiligo patients.
"We are actively looking for treatments. But until that time, you have to love the skin you're in," said Hamilton.
Ruxolitinib is currently approved in an oral form for some blood disorders. A phase three trial of the cream will start this winter. For more information on vitiligo and patient support groups go to WWW.VITFRIENDS.ORG.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.