We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: No tan, except for the one that comes from a bottle, is safe, regardless of how much SPF you slather on before sitting under the sun. But now a team of researchers may have discovered the best of both worlds — how to get tan and be protected from sun damage — which they’ve managed to harness in a single cream.
A new report, published in Cell Reports, found that scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a topical drug that darkens the skin naturally — and safely — without the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. When topically applied to the skin, the drug, which is still in its initial stages, essentially tricks the skin into activating melanin, which causes the skin to darken, as it were tanned by the sun.
Unlike self-tanners, which uses dihydroxyacetone (DHA) — a sugar that reacts with proteins on your skin’s surface in what chefs call the Maillard reaction, which is what makes food turn brown under heat — this drug activates the production of melanin, which absorbs UV radiation, thus, creating a barrier against the sun and its damaging effects. Previously, the research team experimented with similar drugs and on mice, but this latest experiment, performed on a human skin sample, proved successful in deeply pigmenting the skin after eight days.
This drug could be a groundbreaking development in the sun category, says Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “This offers an exciting new option to minimize the risk of skin cancers, especially in very fair skin patients,” he tells Allure. “Natural pigment in the skin offers minimal protection against UV light, and while it does not take the place of traditional sunscreen behavior, being able to increase the amount of pigmentation in the skin may help prevent sunburns in people with extremely fair skin who would not have much of their own natural pigment.”
While these findings are certainly impressive, to say the least, it should go without saying that more research is needed to determine the drug’s true efficacy. Adds Zeichner: “More importantly, we need to make sure that this is safe.”