It is a common thing in modern Western society to desire a great tan, especially among women. We associate a bronzed skin tone with health and find it attractive. The downside to this is that spending too much time in the sun without applying sunscreen, to negate the effects of exposure to damaging ultraviolet rays, can be a very dangerous decision. The number of people annually who contract skin cancer is absolutely staggering. Alternatives such as a tanning bed has the same effect as direct sunlight as it also relies on ultraviolet light to produce the desired effect, and tanning cream often turns you an unnatural shade of orange which ends up being transferred onto everything you touch. Fear not, though, for help is on its way and the solution to safe tanning is right over the horizon.
Recent findings on the transformation of melatonin in the process of tanning have been published in the journal Cell Reports. The studies from which these findings originate were conducted by a team of scientists and pathologists from the Massachusetts General Hospital who performed their experiments on replicated human skin that was cultivated in a laboratory, and what they have found out is quite fascinating. By introducing new compounds that activate natural pigmentation pathways, they have been able to trigger a defence response in the skin samples. By using different methods of introducing what is known as SIK inhibitors, melatonin production in the skin cells is increased. Reading the original report is treacherous for anyone who does not understand scientific jargon, however it is available for public perusal if you so choose.
Here is a summarised version of the whole story in layman’s terms. It helps to start with how exactly a tan occurs. When your skin is exposed to ultraviolet light, it releases melanin, which is a skin pigment, as a defence. The melanin protects your skin by absorbing light to dissipate UV radiation. When you are in the sun often, the melanin becomes more prominent and longer-lasting, hence your tan. Certain people with specific genetic traits, such as fair skin or red headedness (often accompanied by light skin) produce considerably less melanin, sometimes none at all, as in the case of albinism. This poses a medical concern. If a drug can be developed to increase your skin’s melanin amount, people with these genetic traits can benefit greatly from it and ensure that their skin is properly protected.
Keeping this information in mind, it now begins to make sense why these scientists have worked on developing a substance which essentially replicates the effects of being exposed to the sun in order to entice your skin to produce more melanin in order to protect itself. The more melanin your skin contains, the more resistance it offers against UV radiation.
This medical breakthrough is still in its developmental phase, however, and it will be a long time before this seeming miracle drug will be available for commercial consumption, but it is still a massive leap forward in the battle against aging and UV radiation ailments such as skin cancer.