Someday lounging in the sun may not be necessary to get a tan.
Getting that sun-kissed glow could someday get a whole lot healthier, with no need to bask in dangerous UV rays.
A team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have created a topically applied drug that stimulates the production of melanin, which darkens the skin. Under UV rays, the skin naturally protects itself against harm by initiating a chemical reaction that produces melanin; alas, those rays also age and damage the skin and can lead to deadly melanoma and other skin cancers. Sunless tanning lotions now on the market use a color additive that lasts only a few days.
While a tanning drug may seem like a superficial goal, there are real benefits. Tests from the study showed that the melanin produced by the drug successfully protected against UV rays known to cause liver spots, premature aging and skin cancer, meaning a "suntan" drug could be preventive medicine for millions of people. Results of the study were published recently in Cell Reports.
The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and that each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer combined. One person dies of melanoma every hour in the U.S., with 86% of melanomas resulting from exposure to the sun.
"Our real goal is a novel strategy for protecting skin from UV radiation and cancer," lead researcher Dr. David Fisher told the BBC. "Dark pigment is associated with a lower risk of all forms of skin cancer—that would be really huge."
So far the drug has only been tested on mice and skin samples. The results suggested that it could even work on the palest among us, redheads, whose skin is very fair due to a genetic mutation that prevents it from producing melanin, making them more susceptible to dangerous burning.