Tanning Without the Sun (2017 Science Video Contest Winner)

Tanning Without the Sun (2017 Science Video Contest Winner)


Whenever I go to the beach I have to slather on the sunscreen and hide under a beach umbrella and even then I still sometimes get burnt. UV is the leading cause of skin cancer. Although everyone should take precautions to
protect themselves from UV… people with lighter skin tones like myself have less natural protection and show a higher incidence of skin cancer. But what if I could put on a lotion that would make my skin produce more of its own natural pigment to give me that extra layer of protection? Researchers in Boston have been
working on a way to do just that. They made a small molecule that
absorbs into the skin and helps you make your own pigment. All without the use of UV! The variety of skin colors humans
have are caused by melanin. The darker the skin, the more melanin you have. This pigment absorbs UV and protects
the skin cells from UV damage which causes skin cancer. When you spend a lot of time in the sun
or you use a tanning bed… your skin goes into crisis mode and produces more pigment to help protect you. That’s the basis of a tan. These researchers wanted to make a way to get more pigment without exposing yourself to UV. To do that, they made a small-molecule that makes your skin produce more of its own melanin. Essentially it’s sunless tanning! Their molecule enters the pigment producing
skin cells and stops a protein that usually tells the master pigment regulator to slow down. Without that protein, you get more melanin. In order to make sure their molecule worked… they tested it on both mice and on
human skin taken from biopsies. They were able to get visibly darker skin
on the mice and the human skin within a few days. Plus the treatment was also completely reversible! The increase in melanin caused by their molecule slowly faded away after 2 weeks! While they haven’t tested their molecule on people yet… the results that they found in mice and skin biopsies are really promising. It’s possible that this kind of UV-free tanning could help people with sun-sensitivity, vitiligo, and even certain forms of albinism. Not to mention the possibility of getting a tan without damaging your skin. Maybe some day I can add another step to my skin care routine and worry a little less about skin cancer.