Scientists have developed a new drug that gives you a suntan without even having to go outside. For those of you who may be thinking why are scientists wasting their time on something superficial like getting a great tan, and not finding a cure for cancer, one person dies of melanoma an hour in the US and 86 percent of melanomas are from UV exposure from the Sun.
And yet people still eschew sunscreen, oil themselves up, and go on sunbeds to sit under concentrated UV radiation for a prolonged amount of time. The mind boggles.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in the US 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.
Spray tans and fake tans might look great (and are definitely the safer option), but they don’t offer any actual protection against the Sun. Tests from the study showed that the melanin produced by the drug successfully protected against UV rays.
The team hopes that their breakthrough, reported in the journal Cell Reports, will mean a reduction in the negative effects of UV radiation, from liver spots and premature aging to skin cancer.
"Our real goal is a novel strategy for protecting skin from UV radiation and cancer,” Dr David Fisher, who led the study, told the BBC. "Dark pigment is associated with a lower risk of all forms of skin cancer – that would be really huge."
How does it work? Under UV rays the skin naturally protects itself against harm by kickstarting a chemical reaction that produces melanin, the pigment that gives hair, skin, and eyes a dark coloring, which is why people who live in warmer, sunnier climes often have darker skin and hair.
The drug is rubbed onto the skin to stimulate the melanin process. So far, it has only been tested on mice and skin samples, though the results suggest it could even work on redheads, whose pale skin is due to a genetic mutation that prevents the skin from producing melanin, meaning they are much more susceptible to dangerous burning.
On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if they have had more than five sunburns. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Each year in the US, there are more new cases of skin cancer diagnosed than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers combined.
The risk of indoor tanning is not worth a golden glow. Each year, more than 419,000 skin cancer cases in the US are linked to indoor tanning. People who have used tanning beds 10 or more times have increased their risk of developing melanoma by 34 percent compared to those who have never used tanning beds.
Eventually, the researchers want to combine their drug with sunscreen for maximum protection against the Sun. Until then, daily use of SPF15 or higher reduces your risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent, so as Baz Luhrmann famously said: “Wear sunscreen”.