Injections of a substance similar to a hormone naturally produced in the body appear to give people a tan with minimal sun exposure, new research suggests.
“It took one-third or less of the normal amount of sunlight to get a very deep tan,” study author Dr. Robert T. Dorr told Reuters Health. Moreover, the injections also appeared to offer some protection from sun-related skin damage, according to the report in the Archives of Dermatology. During the study, people were given ten daily injections of melanotan-1 (MT-1), a synthetic version of a hormone that triggers the production of the natural skin pigment melanin. People who received MT-1 before exposing themselves to ultraviolet light or sunlight tended to tan more quickly than normal sunbathers, and showed fewer signs of sun-related damage to skin cells. “Cosmetics is one thing, but if we can really protect people from sun damage…I think we’ll have helped a lot of people,” said the researcher, who is based at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He added that researchers are currently investigating whether MT-1 can be administered as an implant that slowly releases the drug over time. It may also one day be available as a lotion or in a pill, he noted. Dorr serves as a consultant to EpiTan, an Australian company that makes MT-1. The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute. In an initial study, 4 people received 10 daily injections of MT-1 and 4 others received a placebo shot, followed by ultraviolet light. In a second study, 12 people received 10 daily shots of MT-1 at an increased dose, including 5 days of ultraviolet exposure either during or after the shots. A third group of 8 people received the higher dose of MT-1 followed by regular sunlight exposure for 4 weeks. In the first experiment, 3 out of 4 people became tanned, and developed nearly 50 percent fewer sunburn cells than people who received a placebo shot. Participants who received the higher dose developed a darker tan, and people who added MT-1 to sunlight exposure tanned faster than people who tried sunlight alone. In an interview, Dorr noted that a few people who received MT-1 showed signs of fatigue or nausea, but most participants did not develop any side effects.He explained that when the body is exposed to sun, surface skin cells become damaged and release the MT-1-like hormone, which triggers other cells to produce melanin. MT-1, in contrast, bypasses this system by acting immediately on the melanin-producing cells, which “short circuits the need to get the damage,” he said. The drug differs from self-tanning products, Dorr noted, which are merely colorants that produce something that doesn’t protect against sunlight. (SOURCE: Archives of Dermatology: Reuters Health News: Alison McCook: July 2004.