Sun Tanning Drug Could Prevent Skin Cancer

A team at Massachusetts General Hospital has developed a drug that imitates sunlight to tan the skin without inflicting the damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light, such as skin cancer. The drug is rubbed into the skin to activate the production of pigment in a UV-independent fashion, causing a potent darkening effect.

UV light causes irreversible skin damage and sets off a chain of chemical reactions that ultimately lead to the production of dark-coloured melanin in the skin; the resulting tan is the body’s natural defence against UV radiation. Melanin inhibits the growth of skin cancers and helps the skin appear younger.

In tests on mice and skin samples, the drug caused the skin to produce melanin without any exposure to harmful UV light. The extra melanin then pigmented the skin. Dark pigment is associated with a lower risk of all forms of skin cancer. Since melanin acts like a biological sunblock in human skin, people who use the drug will have a higher resistance to sun damage, thereby reducing their susceptibility to skin cancers and the appearance of ageing.

The novel strategy can also be used in conjunction with sunscreen – a product that blocks UV light but does not aid in melanin production and that also keeps people “looking pale”. The drug works much differently to a fake tan, however, which paints the skin with artificial colour and does not activate the production of melanin.

More tests will be conducted before the drug is ready for human use, although there has been no sign of adverse side effects. So far, the drug shows promise in its ability to prevent skin cancer, slow the appearance of ageing, and keep skin healthier for longer.


Learn more about skin cancer medicine in primary care at the next Skin Cancer Certificate Courses:

Skin Cancer Certificate Courses in Australia

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