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Cancer-free suntans coming?

Sept. 26, 2006
Special to World Science  

Sci­en­tists are test­ing a lo­tion that they say gives a nat­u­ral sun­tan while low­er­ing skin can­cer risk—rather than rais­ing it, as real sun­tans do.

The prod­uct fools the skin in­to think­ing it has been in the sun, said the re­search­ers, at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ken­tucky in Kex­ing­ton, Ky. This causes nat­u­ral tan­ning to oc­cur through prod­uction of the pig­ment mel­a­nin, at least in an­i­mal tests, said the uni­ver­si­ty’s John D’O­ra­zio. 

Re­sults of real tan­ning. (Cour­te­sy U.S. Na­val Safe­ty Cen­ter)


The prod­uct is forskolin, a de­riv­a­tive of the plant Plec­tran­thus bar­ba­tus, he said; re­search­ers are test­ing it on an­i­mals for safe­ty, and “so far, re­sults are pro­mis­ing.” 

Many peo­ple use lo­tions that pro­vide a fake tan with­out the da­m­age from the sun’s ul­t­ra­vi­o­let ra­di­a­tion, which ac­com­pa­nies real tans. This da­m­age causes can­cer and wrin­k­les. 

But pro­d­ucts cur­rent­ly avai­l­a­ble use a che­m­i­cal that dyes skin brown or or­ange, D’O­ra­zio said. They al­so pro­vide no sun pro­tec­tion and are tricky to put on, he added, leav­ing some users with or­ange knees and el­bows. 

Some users give up and turn to the sun or tan­ning beds, al­so dan­ger­ous.

Tan­ning nat­u­rally causes prod­uction of mel­a­nin as a nat­u­ral sun­screen, which helps pro­tect against fur­ther skin dam­age. Peo­ple who ge­ne­ti­cal­ly have more skin mel­a­nin are bet­ter able to re­sist sun dam­age to beg­in with.

The new lo­tion acts tem­po­ra­rily, D’O­razio said, and could be used to build up mel­a­nin for pro­tec­tion in ad­vance of a beach trip. “What is ex­cit­ing to us,” he added, “is the pos­si­bil­i­ty of re­duc­ing skin can­cer by mak­ing skin more im­per­vi­ous to UV dam­age. The cos­met­ic ef­fect does have a lot of peo­ple ex­cit­ed and that’s great too. If this keeps even one per­son from go­ing to a tan­ning bed and in­creas­ing their risk for skin can­cer, then it will serve its pur­pose.”


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Scientists are testing a lotion that they say gives a natural suntan while lowering skin cancer risk—rather than raising it, as real suntans do. The product fools the skin into thinking it has been in the sun, said the researchers, at the University of Kentucky in Kexington, Ky. That causes natural tanning to occur through production of the pigment melanin, at least in animal tests, said the university’s John D’Orazio. The product is forskolin, a derivative of the plant Plectranthus barbatus, he said; researchers are testing it on animals for safety, and “so far, results are promising.” Many people use lotions that provide a fake tan without the damage from the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, which accompanies real tans. This damage causes cancer and wrinkles. But products currently available use a chemical that dyes skin brown or orange, D’Orazio said. They also provide no sun protection and are tricky to put on, he added, leaving some users with orange knees and elbows. Some users give up and turn to the sun and tanning beds, which are also dangerous. Sun tanning naturally causes production of melanin as a sort of natural sunscreen, which helps protect against further damage to the skin. People who naturally have more skin melanin are better able to resist sun damage to begin with. The new lotion has temporary effects, D’Orazio said, but it could be used to build up melanin for protection in advance of a beach trip. “What is exciting to us,” he added, “is the possibility of reducing skin cancer by making skin more impervious to UV damage. The cosmetic effect does have a lot of people excited and that’s great too. If this keeps even one person from going to a tanning bed and increasing their risk for skin cancer, then it will serve its purpose.”