Self-tanning products have come a long way in a short time, and soon there will be even more changes on the horizon as research continues probing ways to tan without the sun.
A study led by Barbara Gilchrest, head of Boston University’s department of dermatology, has discovered a way to create a tan without the use of ultra-violet radiation. Current self-tanning products dye the skin, or cause an oxidation process which results in tan-looking skin.
Gilchrest’s study, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology and reprinted in Nature, topically applied synthetic elements of DNA (diacylglycerols or DAGs) to guinea pig skin to create a real tan. Increased pigmentation in the animal’s skin occurred within 24 hours of application, and lasted up to 60 days.
“Our data demonstrates that topically applied DAGs can produce a long-lasting increase of epidermal pigmentation, presumably through protein kinase C activation, which clinically and histologically closely resembles ultraviolet-induced tanning,” the study states.
The DAGs turn on the mechanism for pigment production in skin cells, says Dr. Jason Rivers, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based dermatologist and spokesperson for the Canadian Dermatology Association.
“It’s like putting a key in a door to turn on pigment production,” Rivers explains. “But does the same key work in another door to cause initiation of cancer? We don’t know.”
While Rivers finds the study interesting and refers to it as “cutting edge,” he’s cautious about discussing its potential applications.
“Yes, you can cause tanning in guinea pigs-they’re doing that-but whether or not you can do it in humans remains to be seen. It’s still very early.”
Both Rivers and Gilchrest maintain a natural tan not initiated by ultra-violet radiation, would be beneficial. It would provide the sought-after look of a tan, and extra protection from the sun’s potentially damaging rays.