Scientists Created a Treatment That Can Make Skin Tan Without the Sun

You might not have to damage your skin to get a bronzed look. (Photo: Getty Images)

With the official start of summer just one week away, you probably already have your first beach trip planned. But before you risk damaging your skin in an attempt to get a tan, there might actually be a safe way to increase the pigmentation of your skin.

David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital set out to tan skin while combating the risk of cancers and aging that can result from sun exposure — and it looks as if they’re well on their way. As a follow-up to a study released in 2006, Fisher and his team just came out with findings of an ingredient that may be applied topically to darken the appearance of human skin in a way that mimics the natural tanning process.

Yahoo Beauty spoke with Dr. Fisher about the reasons why these findings are so important. And while it’s no secret that many of us just want the glow (hello, tanning lotion) he emphasizes the greater value in stimulating melanin production.

“Dark pigment clearly is beneficial in preventing the photo aging phenomenon – the injury from ultraviolet radiation that causes our skin to look old,” he says. “It accelerates the aging process of our skin, and dark pigment appears to strongly antagonize that by multiple different mechanisms.”

The understanding that increased melanin in the skin is in fact valuable might not be new. However, using UV to stimulate the pigment’s response is so detrimental that the skin doesn’t actually reap the benefits of it. So once the team at MGH identified the processes that underly natural tanning, they began to work on discovering an ingredient that would safely produce the same response.

The increased pigmentation of the skin above is a result of the tested inhibitor. (Photo: Nisma Mujahid and David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, Cutaneous Biology Research Center, Department of Dermatology, Massachusetts General Hospital)

“The way we went about this was to identify an ingredient that has the ability to target something in our skin which normally inhibits pigment production. So that by inhibiting the inhibitor, it allows pigment to be synthesized, without any of the damaging effects,” Fisher explains.

Although there is still testing to be done, Dr. Fisher anticipates that physical changes caused by the final product are expected to be gradual, taking a few days to darken the skin. However, just like a natural tan, the color will only begin to disappear as skin naturally sheds off. And although this sounds like an easy-out from both spray tans and sunblock, Dr. Fisher warns that the resulting product should always be used with sunscreen, and not in place of it.

“Sunscreen will always be useful for certain things,” he assures. “But dark pigment in addition to sunscreen may provide a whole dimension of protection.”

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