A Pill That Makes You Tan AND Protects From UVA?!

Scientists have developed a new drug that gives you a suntan without even having to go outside. For those of you who may be thinking why are scientists wasting their time on something superficial like getting a great tan, and not finding a cure for cancer, one person dies of melanoma an hour in the US and 86 percent of melanomas are from UV exposure from the Sun.

And yet people still eschew sunscreen, oil themselves up, and go on sunbeds to sit under concentrated UV radiation for a prolonged amount of time. The mind boggles.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in the US have created a drug that stimulates the production of melanin – the skin’s natural defense against UV rays that darkens to protect it – so the tan is real and not painted or sprayed on.

Spray tans and fake tans might look great (and are definitely the safer option), but they don’t offer any actual protection against the Sun. Tests from the study showed that the melanin produced by the drug successfully protected against UV rays.

The team hopes that their breakthrough, reported in the journal Cell Reports, will mean a reduction in the negative effects of UV radiation, from liver spots and premature aging to skin cancer.

“Our real goal is a novel strategy for protecting skin from UV radiation and cancer,” Dr David Fisher, who led the study, told the BBC. “Dark pigment is associated with a lower risk of all forms of skin cancer – that would be really huge.”

How does it work? Under UV rays the skin naturally protects itself against harm by kickstarting a chemical reaction that produces melanin, the pigment that gives hair, skin, and eyes a dark coloring, which is why people who live in warmer, sunnier climes often have darker skin and hair.

The drug is rubbed onto the skin to stimulate the melanin process. So far, it has only been tested on mice and skin samples, though the results suggest it could even work on redheads, whose pale skin is due to a genetic mutation that prevents the skin from producing melanin, meaning they are much more susceptible to dangerous burning.


The concept of this is definitely a step in the right direction — but the way the information is presented is a little misleading. Darker skin-tones do have more natural protection against sun-damage (my red-headed husband is going to get sunburned way faster than just about any other skin-type)  but it is a fallacy to think that dark skin is impervious to the sun. (Bob Marley died from skin cancer!)

If this pill worked exactly the way it is described here, the biggest advantage would be cosmetic: a person could look tanner than their natural skin-tone, safely and completely.

The darker skin tone would provide some additional sun protection, but sun safety would still need to be exercised. (Maybe instead of normally getting burned in 5-minutes, this pill would make it so that you could go 7-minutes.)