As summer draws to a close and the daylight gets shorter (for us here in the northern hemisphere), we cast a spiteful look at the cold sun and the prospect of months of nothing but hospital fluorescents to bathe our skin. Is there no safe, clean way to avoid the coming winter pallor? Not now, but maybe someday — the Boston Globe‘s Pulitzer prize-winning science writer, Gareth Cook, takes a look at a new kind of tanning cream that may harmlessly give pale humans some protection from skin cancer:
The research, done with mice, found that a lotion can prompt skin cells to make melanin, the darkening pigment that protects the skin from harmful ultraviolet radiation…
The compound the scientists used to trigger the tanning is forskolin , which is sold as an herbal supplement derived from the root of a plant in India. Unlike tanning products sold today that dye the skin, the cream creates a real tan, with the color coming from the body’s own cells.
Fisher said people should not try using the substance on their skin because it has not been carefully studied for toxicity as a skin cream. His lab is currently testing a number of other compounds that act on the same biological trigger as forskolin, with the hope that one of them will turn out to be a safe way to create a tan without the risks of bright sunlight or the tanning booth.