Toggle Menu
  1. Home/
  2. Tech & Science/
  3. Discoveries/

Scientists find drug that tans the skin without UV light

Scientists found a drug that applied on the skin produces a tan without the need for UV light. The drug has been tested on human skin samples in the laboratory.

Researchers in Boston have developed a new drug that creates a real tan without the need for UV radiation. According to their findings, the small molecules that they have created successfully penetrate and darken the human skin samples in the laboratory.

The drug also generates protective tans in red-haired mice, which, just like their human counterparts, are more susceptible to skin cancer due to UV radiation.


The researchers published their findings in the open journal Cell Reports and according to them the molecules work by stimulating cells to produce more UV absorbing pigments.

Years earlier, a topical compound, named forskolin, was found to be able to induce cancer-protecting tan in red-haired mice without the need for UV radiation but scientists found that the human skin did not absorb the substance.

“Human skin is a very good barrier and is a formidable penetration challenge, therefore other topical approaches just did not work,” says senior author David E. Fisher, the Chief of Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School, who led the earlier studies involving forskolin. “But ten years later, we have come up with a solution. It’s a different class of compounds, that work by targeting a different enzyme that converges on the same pathway that leads to pigmentation.”

This new class of molecules is capable of darkening human skin by inhibiting the Salt Inducible Kinase enzymes, thereby stimulating the genes that induce pigmentation.

The researchers tested the small molecules on discarded extra skin that they maintained in the laboratory on a Petri dish, and found that darkening took place proportional to the dose and the schedule at which the drug was applied.

Not only that but this artificial tan lasted for days. And when applied to the red-haired mice, they could become almost jet black in a day or two with a strong enough dose. The color fades away over time and skin tone gets back to normal within a week or so.

Scientists hope that their research will help in developing a new strategy for skin cancer prevention.


“We believe the potential importance of this work is towards a novel strategy for skin cancer prevention,” Fisher says. “Skin is the most common organ in our bodies to be afflicted with cancer, and the majority of cases are thought to be associated with UV radiation. But we’ve found that the picture is more complicated, that red-blonde pigments are also more intrinsically carcinogenic, whereas dark melanin is intrinsically beneficial if not produced through use of dangerous UV injury to skin. Our approach could help switch pigments to those found in darker skin, without a need for UV exposure.”

The long-term goal of this research is to create something that could be used in combination with traditional UV-absorbing sunscreens. The team’s next step is to continue testing the safety of the small molecule in animals before doing toxicity studies in humans.

And the new findings could also help the cosmetic industry especially as tanned skin in all the rage and people are exposing themselves to UV radiation, sometimes disregarding the dangers.

Sylvia Jacob