New ‘real’ tan breakthrough could finally give gingers a healthy glow

14 Jun 2017

Image: Nejc Vesel/Shutterstock

A new breakthrough in dermatology could not only offer people a ‘real’ tan, but could also prevent harmful damage through UV rays.

As we enter holiday season, thousands of people from across Europe will flock to beaches in the hopes of making the most out of the sea, sand and, most importantly, sun.

Of course, this long-term exposure of skin to the sun, without the proper protection, will quickly leave a person’s skin damaged by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which could lead to the development of skin cancer.

Future Human

But what if you could get a natural-looking tan without needing to expose yourself to long periods of the sun, tanning beds or by smearing fake tan on your body?

That is the goal of a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, who have made a major breakthrough that has now been published in Cell Reports.

Using their specially developed drug, the team is able to trick the skin into producing melanin in its brown form to create the darker pigmentation of skin.

Only tested on skin samples and mice so far, the drug would be applied to human skin in a lotion form, leading to a visible tan without the harmful UV radiation that typically triggers melanin production.

Speaking with the BBC, researcher Dr David Fisher, who is involved in the project, described it as having a “potent darkening effect”.

Skin cancer prevention

If the drug were to become commercially available, it could spell the beginning of a new era of tanning for those with fair skin, particularly those with ginger hair, whose genetic mutation means that their skin does not produce dark melanin when exposed to UV light.

However, rather than merely trying to offer a tan to the redheads of the world, the team are conducting this research to end the “significant frustration” in the progress of tackling skin cancer.

“Our real goal is a novel strategy for protecting skin from UV radiation and cancer,” Fischer said.

“Dark pigment is associated with a lower risk of all forms of skin cancer – that would be really huge.”

More testing will need to be done on the drug before it can begin being trialled on humans but so far, the tests have proven successful with “no hint of problems”.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic