We can all agree by now: Sun damage is scary. At surface level, it causes irritation, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles—all of which are skin woes that we spend ample time and money to treat and prevent. But deeper than that, and more importantly, sun damage can cause skin cancer. It’s not purely hypothetical, either. As the Skin Cancer Foundation reports, “One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.” Terrifying? Yes. But also completely preventable (sunscreen and dermatologist visits, people!).
Now, according to BBC News, we might soon have another sun damage–fighting tool in our arsenal. It comes in the form of a newly developed drug that protects the skin while creating a “real sun-tan.” That’s right: The product causes skin cells to produce more melanin—a pigment that’s simultaneously responsible for tanned skin and natural UV defense. Keep reading to learn more about this new drug and its possible effects on the cosmetic and health industries!
According to BBC, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have created a drug called SIK-inhibitor that “tricks the skin into producing the brown form of the pigment melanin” with no exposure to sunlight. It’s applied topically like sunscreen and sets off a number of chemical reactions, which result in an increased amount of melanin stored in skin cells. So, it’s essentially a way to acquire a “real sun-tan” without any damage whatsoever.
This is significantly different than other tanning methods on the market. Those that promise an increase in melanin still require some form of damaging UV light (tanning beds, for instance), and those that don’t require any form of UV light aren’t actually producing melanin—they’re simply sitting on top of the skin and giving the illusion of it. Take fake tanners; they “paint” the skin darker.
The researchers, however, aren’t interested in marketing the drug for cosmetic use. David Fisher, one of the team’s researchers, told BBC that the “real goal is a novel strategy for protecting skin from UV radiation and cancer.” Since melanin is your skin’s natural defense against UV rays, having more of it could mean significantly less sun damage (and consequently, a lessened risk of cancer). This is why you don’t burn as easily once you’re tan. “Dark pigment is associated with a lower risk of all forms of skin cancer,” Fisher says. “That would be really huge.”
Many more tests need to be done before it can be widely used, though eventually, the researchers intend to combine their drug with sunscreen to provide max protection.
While we wait for this revolutionary drug to hit the mainstream, stock up on our favorite sunscreen and sunless tanners below.