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Melanin injections are the dangerous way celebrities are trying to score a tan

Worse than a sunbed.

03 Apr 2019

Many of us go to great lengths to score a golden tan. From wearing a tansie to bed (got to protect those sheets) to slipping your mitt over a coathanger for an extended arm that reaches that spot on your back – applying self-tan requires a lot of skill and patience.

Which leads us to the question, if there was an injectable of some kind that could give you a tan without slathering on product - would you do it?

It sounds great in theory, but the reality is that melanin injections are far more dangerous than we ever imagined...

What are melanin/tanning injections?

"'Melanotan' (a brand of melanin injections) is a synthetic hormone which is injected via a needle under the skin to stimulate the pigment cells in your body to produce more melanin, which in turn gives you a tan", says Dr Ross Perry, skin cancer expert and Medical Director of Cosmedics.

How do melanin injections work?

There are two forms of melanin injections available, Melanotan I and II, which are diluted in water before being injected.

"Melanotan I or afamelanotide is an alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha MSH) analogue which stimulates the production of eumelanin (tanning pigment) in the skin", says Dr Catherine. "It was developed and registered for the treatment of a condition called erythropoietic protopophyria – a rare inherited condition that causes sufferers to develop prolonged burning pain, swelling and redness after 1-20minutes of sun exposure."

In comparison, "Melanotan II as a tanning injection gives quicker, longer lasting results", says Skin Expert, Lorena Öberg "However, Melanotan II will not work without some form of UV exposure, so you need to be getting a minimum of 20 minutes of natural sunlight a day to help activate the melanotan injections."

"Within 6 days you will begin to see your skin warming up to a natural-looking sunkissed glow."

Unlike Botox and other injectable skincare, tanning injections aren't performed by professionals in clinics. in fact, they're technically 'illegal' in the UK.

"Melanin injections are illegal to sell in the UK as they are unlicensed - this is because they have not been tested for safety, quality and effectiveness and there are serious concerns about potentially dangerous side effects", says Dr Catherine Borysiewicz Consultant Dermatologist at Cadogan Clinic.

The dangerous side effects of melanin injections

The biggest worry with these injectibles is that stimulating melanin production and cells can also stimulate dangerous changes in the skin.

"There have been case reports from users of Melanotan of moles which have rapidly changed and become darker", says Dr Sophie Shotter, award-winning cosmetic doctor at The Cosmetic Skin Clinic. "Medical professionals would be very worried about anything which ‘stimulates’ melanocytes, because of the same risks associated with stimulating them via sunlight or sunbeds i.e. cancerous changes."

Short-term side effects can also include facial swelling, nausea, flushing, vomiting and appetite loss.

"Also, bizarrely, type II can be associated with spontaneous erections in males!", says Dr Jane Leonard.

Despite being illegal in the UK, the amount of people who use tanning injections in this country is very high and seems to be increasing. Dr Borysiewicz reveals: “I see seasonal increases in the use of tanning injections and worryingly this year the usage seems to be peaking again.”

And it seems the popularity on melanin injections stretches well beyond us everyday folk too. Skin Repair Expert, Lorena Oberg says: “All of the top models and celebrities are doing it and prefer this option over sunbeds as sunbeds cause skin ageing.”

Where are people sourcing them?

It’s the question we’re all asking: if melanin injections are illegal, where on earth is everyone getting them? “Unfortunately, a quick google search will bring up various retailers who are selling these online and some gyms and beauty salons are selling these under the counter too, but they are not licensed in the UK and are illegal to sell or market,” explains Dr Borysiewicz.

Is there such a thing as 'safe' melanin injections?

The short answer is 'no'. "They haven’t been properly tested, are not regulated and the reports of damaging side effects are commonplace and so they should be avoided", says Dr Ross.

What are the biggest misconceptions?

If one thing is for certain, it’s that there’s a lot of false information out there on the internet about the efficacy and safety of melanin injections.

To prevent any further confusion and help clear up any uncertainty, we’ve asked Consultant Dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic, Dr Catherine Borysiewicz, to reveal the hard truth and here’s what she has to say…

1. In no way can any form of injection give you a safe tan without side-effects.
2. Tan injections do not confer protection to UV damage – it is categorically untrue that they do.
3. Melanin injections are illegal in the UK. This means any that you do purchase have not been subjected to the rigorous testing necessary to ensure safety and efficacy. The true side effects and long-term consequences are actually unknown.

And with new tanning innovations coming across the beauty desk every day, self-tanning is only getting easier, faster and more stain-free as the years go by. Don't risk it, just fake it.