Researchers have created a compound from a natural chemical that boosts melanin in the skin without sun exposure. This tanning effect works with any skin tone and boosts natural protection against skin cancer.
Say goodbye to spray-on tans that look orange, and hello to a plant extract that causes any skin type to actually tan. The best part? It boosts natural resistance to skin cancer, too. Scientists have created a compound using this chemical, and it’s headed for human trials. Used along with sunscreen, it causes a temporary boost in melanin, the natural skin pigment found in most humans to varying degrees. The researchers were able to prove that it works in mice with the MC1R redhead gene. Now, they just need to put it to the test in humans.
If the trials are successful, even people who always turn pink in the sun will be able to tan — all without the accompanying damage to the skin from UV radiation. It would also eliminate the need for “spray-on” tans, which don’t afford any protection from sun damage. The principal advantage to the compound scientists created is that it provides an actual melanin boost, which offers that protection.
PREVENTING SKIN CANCER
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are more than 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer treated in more than 3.3 million people every year in the U.S. In fact, there are more new cases of skin cancer annually than there are cases of breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer combined. More people have had skin cancer in the past 30 years than all other cancers put together. One in five people in the U.S. will get skin cancer at least once, and among Americans 65 and older, that rate rises to 40 to 50 percent. The U.S. spends around $8.1 billion year treating skin cancer.
“It would not actually be a fake tan, it would be the real thing,” research leader David Fisher told The Guardian. “It would just be sunless.” People who tan easily or have darker skin tones are at far lower risk of melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer. That’s because melanin, the pigment that creates darker skin tones and suntanned skin, limits radiation damage to cells by dissipating more than 99.9 percent of UV rays the skin absorbs. If this compound works, we may see considerably less skin cancer in our lifetimes.
Still, many experts say caution should still be the watchword when it comes to sun exposure. “I worry these molecules could give people a false sense of security,” dermatologic surgeon Jennifer Herrmann told Science. “If you are just slightly darker, you may not give yourself a huge amount of protection,” she added, pointing out that tan skin is less protective against UV rays than a low-SPF sunscreen. Fisher’s idea, however, is that the compound would not be a substitute for sunscreen, and ideally, sunscreen could be combined with it in a single product.