‘Real Fake’ Skin Tan Chemical Could Help Prevent Skin Cancer

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Real skin tanning without the risk of cancer could soon be a reality. After more than ten years of effort, researchers have discovered a substance capable of penetrating the skin and making it brown without exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, thus avoiding the risk of developing cutaneous cancer.

Unlike traditional self-tanning creams, which only color the surface layer of the skin, this molecule acts by stimulating cells that produce pigments whose role is to absorb ultraviolet radiation, researchers say.

The study was published this Tuesday in the American journal Cell Reports. The new molecule has yet to undergo further pre-clinical testing before determining its safety in humans.

This substance applied as a cream also makes it possible to brown the epidermis of red-haired mice, which like humans are more likely to develop skin cancer under the effect of ultraviolet radiation.

The study stems from a study published in 2006 in the British scientific journal Nature, which showed that another substance, forskolin, produced by the plant known as Indian Coleus, could induce browning of red-skinned mice without exposure to Ultraviolet radiation. But scientists quickly discovered that this molecule could not penetrate human skin.

Not protected by a thick layer of hair, the human epidermis has evolved over time to develop protections against, among others, the cold, heat and ultraviolet rays of the sun.

“Human skin is a formidable barrier, difficult to penetrate,” says Dr. David Fisher, head of the Department of Dermatology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at the Harvard Medical School, the main author of this discovery.

“Ten years later we have found a solution with a different class of molecules… smaller and able to pass through the lipids to target another enzyme acting on the same genetic pigmentation mechanism of the skin,” says the researcher .

Scientists tested these molecules on samples of human skin in the laboratory and found that they have browned the skin more or less depending on the doses of the substance and the frequency of applications. The artificial tan lasted several days.

“The potential importance of this study will ultimately lie in a new skin protection and skin cancer prevention strategy,” says Fisher, who notes that “the skin is the largest organ in our body that can be affected by Cancer and (that) the majority of cases are related to exposure to ultraviolet rays.”