Scientists discover topical drug that tans skin without UV

Compound found to activate pigmentation pathway in human skin creating significant darkening after eight days of application

Scientists have discovered a topical drug that can create tanned skin without exposure to harmful UV rays.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute published their findings in the June 13 issue of Cell Reports as a follow-up to a 2006 study, which unearthed the molecular pathways involved when skin becomes tanned.

The new discovery means scientists are now able to increase pigmentation in human skin via a drug applied directly to the skin.

David E Fisher, Chief of the Department of Dermatology at MGH, said: “We are excited about the possibility of inducing dark pigment production in human skin without a need for either systemic exposure to a drug or UV exposure to the skin.”

The compound, containing small-molecule salt-inducible kinases (SIK) inhibitors, is able to induce “significant darkening" after eight days of daily application.

In separate earlier studies, an SIK inhibitor was found to create skin darkening in a strain of red-haired mice, whose skin turned virtually black within a few days before gradually decreasing after application was stopped.

Applying the new drug results in the creation of eumelanin pigment deposited near the skin’s surface in patterns that are typical of tanning through sun exposure.

The discovery could have applications to the cosmetics industry, but rigorous testing is required.

To date, cosmetics manufacturers of products such as MyTan and Tan N Go, have only gone as far as developing ingestible products that mimic the creation of a tan, primarily through the inclusion of ingredients such as beta-carotene.

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