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Reported September 8, 2004

Tan Without the Sun

Tan Without the SunTUCSON, Ariz. (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- In just a few short years, you may not need the sun to get the perfect tan. It sounds too good to be true, a sunless suntan that protects you from the sun's harmful UV rays. But these researchers have uncovered a group of molecules they say stimulate the cells that darken the skin.

"Our product will stimulate the cells in your skin -- they're called melanocytes -- to make a natural pigment called melanin," says endocrinologist Mac Hadley, Ph.D., of University of Arizona in Tucson.

Thirty years ago, Dr. Hadley realized he had discovered something special when he found the molecule that helps frogs change colors to avoid predators. He and fellow researchers patented the molecules with the idea that they might be useful in causing a human being to develop a tan. This could mean the risk of skin cancer could be significantly lower.

"The melanin forms right above the nucleus of the cell and forms a screen, a pigmentary screen, and now when the ultra violent light comes down, it's absorbed by the melanin, and therefore, not by the DNA," Dr. Hadley tells Ivanhoe.

Tan Without the SunSo far, no significant side effects have been seen with the drug, but it may put a huge dent in the tanning booth business. "Either we're going to eliminate the tanning booth," says Dr. Hadley, "or they're going to come along and use our molecule to help deliver and give you maybe the whole body tan."

Melanotan is in the final stages of testing in Australia and could become available within three years.

Interestingly, say researchers, the drug has also been looked at for erectile dysfunction. In a small study, nine out of 10 men with erectile dysfunction were able to develop an erection while on the drug.

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