Science's New Self-Tanner Darkens Skin from the Inside Out

Sun loungers

Sun loungers

Researchers say their evidence suggests that the drug will even work on redheads and those with fair skin, whose skin tends to burn in the sun.

Tests revealed this drug blocked harmful UV rays in the lab and could be very effective fighting skin cancer when combined with sunscreen. We wanted to know whether it would be possible to activate real skin pigmentation without using radiation or the sun's rays, which are damaging and unsafe.

The researchers said that the approach of this new drug is significantly different from the fake tan people put on their skin which does not assist in providing any protection to the skin from harmful radiation.

Now, they have. In a paper published June 13 the journal Cell Reports, Fisher and his team describe their discovery. Another research group had shown that an enzyme called salt-inducible kinase inhibits melanin production in mice and that animals lacking the gene for this enzyme developed darkened fur. "If you are just slightly darker, you may not give yourself a huge amount of protection", she says, noting that a tan provides less shielding from the sun's UV rays than a low-SPF sunscreen.

USA researchers have developed a way to increase pigmentation in human skin just like ultraviolet (UV) radiation does - without having to actually expose the skin to that harmful UV radiation. Mice were used for the experiment as they are, like humans, at a risk of developing skin cancer. In a liquid form applied to the skin, the best drug deeply tanned the human skin sample after eight days, with one treatment a day. The tan was reversible though, and the rodents' skin tone returned mostly back to normal in about 2 weeks. "We are talking about millions of young people potentially not using tanning beds each year".

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"As in anything that's a new strategy, this needs toxicity testing to know it's safe before going into man and all sorts of clinical trials", said Fisher. They designed a class of molecules that have several properties to help them penetrate human skin-smaller molecular weight and greater lipid solubility (the ability to pass through lipids).

Ultraviolet (UV) light makes the skin tan by causing damage.

The scientists hope that this break-through could help to prevent skin cancer in the future, but they stressed that further tests are needed to protect humans from potential side-effects. On the other hand, the drug, which is rubbed into the skin, skips the damaging part and immediately begins the process of melanin production.

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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