Researchers at Boston, Massachusetts, developed a drug capable of darkening one’s skin without having to expose it to the sun.

The drug was only tested in mice and isolated skin cells, and it is nowhere near a commercial application.

Image credit: Sun in the City
Image credit: Sun in the City

More tests will take place, although researchers claim that there is “no hint of problems” concerning its use or effectiveness.

A pill that tans your skin

Researchers developed the drug while they tried to understand the predictors of skin cancer. One of these is dark melanin, which coincidentally confers significant protection against UV rays.

Researchers claim that the incidence of skin cancer in the U.S. has increased for decades. Apparently, people with lighter skin or “poor tanning ability” are exposed to a higher risk of developing the disease, which is also relatively uncommon in people with darker skin.

When the skin tans due to UV-ray exposure, there is DNA damage in cells known as keratinocytes. The result is a process where the melanocortin-receptor-1 (MC1R) binds to melanocytes. Lighter skin color and red hair are associated with certain variants Some types of MC1R.

Image credit: Wikipedia
Image credit: Wikipedia

Melanin appears to block 99.9 percent of absorbed UV rays, and MC1R dictates how the skin tans when exposed to sun rays.

The study highlights how researchers tested a molecule known as SIK inhibitor, which is capable of regulating how the body produces melanin and interacts with MC1R. They applied the SIK inhibitor to skin cells put in a petri dish and saw how it darkened, maintaining its new pigmentation for days.

The SIK inhibitor was applied to ginger mice, resulting in blackened skins after a couple of days. The mice were then tested for exposure to UV rays, leading to a reduced risk of suffering from cancer.

Although darkened skin can help prevent cancer, researchers maintain that using sunscreen is an excellent way to prevent melanoma.

“Sunscreen is extremely important; there definitely is protection, but [its] efficacy in melanoma and basal cell carcinoma is surprisingly and frustratingly incomplete. If you have someone who can tan very easily, it seems to be protective above and beyond the SPF factor,” stated David Fisher, lead author of the study.

Concerning the real-life application of the drug, researchers suggest that it should only be used during “high UV index seasons,” as the SIK inhibitor is not meant for cosmetic use, at least for now.

The team that carried out the study is presenting the project to commercial partners, which is the next step leading to tests in humans. One can imagine that in the future, there will be pills and lotions that darken your skin color instead of protecting you from the sun or by helping you tan faster.

It is inevitable to think that the SIK inhibitor will reach cosmetic applications at some point during its commercialization. It could even be used in acting and modeling. Additionally, the tests in mice showed that the drug is easily reversible. All that remains is testing for toxicity and overall safety.

Source: Cell