Tanning Compound Produces Protective Melanin in Skin Without the Sun

Could this new compound give you a suntan—without the sun?

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in the U.S. have created a drug that stimulates the production of melanin - the skin's natural defense against UV rays that darkens to protect it - so the tan is real and not painted or sprayed on. Even individuals with just modestly darker skin have a significantly lower skin cancer risk than fair-skinned people who don't tan, but burn.

Professor Fisher also stated there is potential for the drug to be used as a means of skin cancer prevention in the future and that the long-term goal of his research is to create something that could be used in combination with traditional UV-absorbing sunscreens.

"It has a potent darkening effect", commented Dr David Fisher, principle researcher. Therefore, if scientists make the skin pigment darker, they might reduce the effects of radiation.

In the study, the researchers found a molecule, called an SK inhibitor, that kick-starts the production of melanin, which darkens skin and dissipates nearly all UV rays absorbed in the skin.

The drug stimulates cells that produce the pigment that absorbs ultraviolet light, the researchers said in the USA journal Cell Reports published on Tuesday.

The enzyme in question, salt-inducible kinases (SIKs), were known to regulate the transcription of a protein, the study authors explained in a statement.

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"Skin is the most common organ in our bodies to be afflicted with cancer, and the majority of cases are thought to be associated with UV radiation", he said. Mice were used for the experiment as they are, like humans, at a risk of developing skin cancer.

Researchers have developed molecules to tan skin without the damaging effects of UV radiation.

Ultraviolet or UV rays tan the skin, but cause damage.

"It would not actually be a fake tan, it would be the real thing", Fisher said. The drug has been tested on skin samples and on mice till now.

Dr. David Fisher further said its frustrating fact that there is a lack of development in skin cancer, which one of the most commonly found cancer. "I worry these molecules could give people a false sense of security", says Jennifer Herrmann, a dermatologic surgeon at Moy-Fincher-Chipps Facial Plastics & Dermatology in Beverly Hills, California, who has studied the use of tanning accelerator products. The tan was reversible though, and the rodents' skin tone returned mostly back to normal in about 2 weeks.

Fisher told Smithsonian magazine that it could be another three to five years before the product is close to hitting shelves.

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