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New Drug Gives Even Redheads A Tan, Protects Against Skin Cancer

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There’s a new drug that can give people a suntan without any harmful effects.

The drug mimics how sunlight tans the skin, but has no damaging UV radiation, the BBC reports. It tricks the skin into making the brown pigment melanin, and has been tested on skin samples and on mice. According to test results, the drug can even work on tanning redheads, who normally just turn red and burn when exposed to too much sunlight.

Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital are hopeful that their work can help prevent skin cancer, and maybe even slow physical aging down.

Ultraviolet or UV rays tan the skin, but cause damage. When the body is exposed to UV light, a chain of chemical reactions follows, ending in the production of dark melanin. Melanin functions as the body’s natural sunblock.

This drug is rubbed onto the skin, which then starts the melanin-making process without the harmful effects. David Fisher, one of the researchers, said,

It has a potent darkening effect. Under the microscope it’s the real melanin, it really is activating the production of pigment in a UV-independent fashion.

This is a different approach compared to fake spray tans, which “paint” the skin without offering protection, or sun beds that expose skin to UV light.

The researchers say they are not motivated to make a new cosmetic, but are rather trying to find a way to address skin cancer. Fisher said that the lack of progress in this most common form of cancer was a “very significant frustration.”

He added, “Our real goal is a novel strategy for protecting skin from UV radiation and cancer. Dark pigment is associated with a lower risk of all forms of skin cancer – that would be really huge.” Tests showed that the drug produced melanin capable of blocking harmful UV rays.

The scientists are looking into combining the drug with sun cream to provide people with maximum protection.

The study was published in the journal Cell Reports.

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