Millions of people are affected with the pigment disorder Vitiligo. But while current treatments can be disappointing, doctors are testing a promising new compound.
Rick Bedoya's had Vitiligo since he was 14. Yet, the blotchy pigment is still a source of embarrassment that he feels the need to explain.
"When I'm around people I do know, or I've just met, most of the time I try to bring it up first and just introduce it as that, because you know most people are gonna ask you anyways."
Traditional treatments don't always work. Then researchers at Oregon Health and Science University made a hot new discovery while studying herbal remedies.
They were testing around 30 different herbs. 28 only turned up minimal effects, but number 29 was black pepper.
In lab experiments, a compound that gives black pepper its heat helped stimulate the growth of new pigment-producing cells called melanocytes.
Medicinal plants expert Dr. Amala Soumyanath says "We were fascinated to find that not only did it increase the number of cells that were growing in culture, it actually made them produce dendrites. Dendrites are very important for the function of a melanocyte. They allow a melanocyte to transfer the pigment melanin to surrounding cells."
It might mean rubbing a cream with the pepper compound into the skin could even out the pigment.
Rick Bedoya says he hopes it will work, and someday he'll be all one color. He believes that would help boost his self-esteem and make him feel better about himself on a day to day basis.
Human trials on the compound could start this year. The pepper compound has been effective in animal studies. If it's safe for humans, researchers say the results could be "far superior" than current treatments. The human trials, though, will only take place at the center in Oregon.