A drug that tricks the body into making a "real" fake tan could prevent skin cancer by providing the desired pigment that blocks harmful UV radiation.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital hope the drug also will reduce the appearance of aging by producing the dark melanin tone, which is the body's natural sunblock, without the damage caused by UV radiation, BBC News reported.
"It has a potent darkening effect," Dr. David Fisher, one of the researchers, told the BBC News. "Under the microscope it's the real melanin, it really is activating the production of pigment in a UV-independent fashion."
The aim of the research it to protect the skin from UV radiation and cancer, Fisher explained.
"Dark pigment is associated with a lower risk of all forms of skin cancer — that would be really huge," he said.
Researchers believe the drug could even work for redheads, who are prone to burning in the sun rather than tanning.
The treatment, which has so far only been tested on mice and skin samples in a petri dish, involves an SIK inhibitor, which tricks the body into producing melanin, The Guardian reported.
“Sunscreen is extremely important; there definitely is protection, but [its] efficacy in melanoma and basal cell carcinoma is surprisingly and frustratingly incomplete,” Fisher said, according to The Guardian. “If you have someone who can tan very easily, it seems to be protective above and beyond the SPF factor.”
“The dream strategy would be to combine both,” Fisher added.
Red-furred mice in the study turned almost black with a big enough dose of the drug, International Business Times reported. The tan began to fade after a few days, much like a real tan.
While no side effects were apparent, Fisher said a toxicity study is a priority to determine any possible adverse effects of the treatment.
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