A New Drug Could Give You A Suntan Without Damaging Your Skin

The days of having to lay out in the sun for hours, doing irreparable damage to your skin, just to to achieve the perfect tan may soon be over. That's thanks to a group of researchers who are currently developing a drug that tricks the body into naturally producing melanin, causing skin to temporarily darken and, ultimately, exude that highly sought-after healthy glow without sunlight or dangerous UV radiation.

Hear that? It's the sound of George Hamilton squealing with glee.

A team at Massachusetts General Hospital -- which just published its findings in Cell Reports -- is currently testing the drug, known as salt-inducible kinase (SIK), and are hopeful that it may help reduce the incidence of skin cancer by providing a safe alternative to soaking up harmful UV rays, and one that doesn't involve going full Oompa Loompa with a tube of self-tanner. 

Unlike a self-tanning lotion, which essentially just stains your skin to give the illusion of a tan, this drug actually goes to work from the inside out, causing the body to boost its production of melanin, which is associated with the darkening of the skin pigment. In other words, it gives you an authentic, beach-earned suntan without requiring a moment under the sun or inside a tanning bed.

Besides providing a cosmetic alternative to subjecting one's skin to cancer-causing UV radiation, the researchers are hopeful the drug can be used to reduce the overall threat of skin cancer in fair-skinned individuals. That's because darker skin pigmentation is also associated with a lower risk of skin cancer. So, if fair-skinned people regularly dose up on the drug to safely darken their skin before heading outside (and also lather themselves in sunscreen, as recommended), their risk of all types of skin cancer could be significantly reduced. Redheads: rejoice!

Unfortunately, you won't be able to pull off a faux-real suntan this summer. The drug has only been successfully topically tested on live mice and human skin samples so far, but researchers are eagerly pushing forward, trying to figure out how to best -- and safely -- administer it to people. 

h/tFast Company

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him @jwmcgauley.