Drug that creates a 'real sun-tan' could prevent cancer

Scientists have developed a drug that mimics sunlight to make the skin tan, with no damaging UV radiation involved.

The drug tricks the skin into producing the brown form of the pigment melanin in tests on skin samples and mice, according to BBC.

Evidence suggests it will work even on redheads, who normally just burn in the sun.

The team at Massachusetts General Hospital hope their discovery could prevent skin cancer and even slow the appearance of ageing.

UV light makes the skin tan by causing damage.

This kicks off a chain of chemical reactions in the skin that ultimately leads to dark melanin - the body's natural sunblock - being made.

The drug is rubbed into the skin to skip the damage and kick-start the process of making melanin.

Dr David Fisher, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: "It has a potent darkening effect.

"Under the microscope it's the real melanin, it really is activating the production of pigment in a UV-independent fashion."

It is a markedly different approach to fake tan, which "paints" the skin without the protection from melanin, sun beds, which expose the skin to UV light or pills that claim to boost melanin production but still need UV light.

The way the drug works could also allow a ginger tan, as the genetic mutation that causes red hair and fair skin disrupts the normal process where UV light leads to dark melanin.

It is not yet clear if the drug might have the unintended consequence of affecting the glorious hair colour, but it is thought the hair follicle is too deep in the skin for the drug to reach.

But whether you are ginger, blonde or brunette, the drug is not yet ready for commercial use.

The researchers want to do more safety testing, although so far there has been "no hint of problems".

They will probably want to give it a better name than an SIK-inhibitor too.

 

 H.Z