Have you ever seen one of those creepy sci-fi movies that depicts some mad scientist or zealous alien implanting a chip into an unsuspecting human’s arm, head, or shoulder? No doubt the intrusion makes for entertaining cinema, but can you imagine actually subjecting yourself to this X-Files-esque scenario for the sake of beauty?

Hear me out; aliens won’t be performing the procedure. Dermatologists will be the ones wielding the incising instrument and the implant – which isn’t a tracking chip, in case you haven’t caught on yet. No, this implant is a melanin-stimulating capsule, about the size of a grain of rice, and it will give you a three-month tan without the use of dangerous tanning beds or messy, bottled spray tans.

The Scenesse implant, made by Clinuvel, is billed as "a therapeutic photoprotective drug for patients who are most at risk from UV and sun exposure.” Scenesse is the trade name for Afamelanotide, which is a synthetic version of the natural α-melanocyte–stimulating hormone (α-MSH) found in the body. α-MSH induces skin pigmentation – as does its analog, Afamelanotide. Of course, the darker one’s skin is, the less UV damage it will incur. This is a great defense against cancer and, “potentially, [the Scenesse implant] does offer an alternative to commercial sunscreens.” So, why does Scenesse use Afamelanotide and not the natural α-MSH itself? The latter has a very short half-life, rendering it an unrealistic choice.

Afamelanotide is similar to Botox in that it was originally created for medical reasons (to stave off cancer and aid those with other skin diseases). The cosmetic industry would certainly welcome the Scenesse implant with open arms, but long-term effects need to be evaluated, according to one professor involved with the implant.

This is interesting, as using Afamelanotide in implant form for the purpose of tanning has been in the works for at least ten years. In 2002, BBC reported on a laboratory in Australia developing Melanotan, which was the original name for Afamelanotide. Nick-named the “Barbie Drug,” Melanotan was tested on dogs and rats that actually grew black fur when given the substance. And Melanotan has been around since the 1980s, when a University of Arizona team first discovered a way to tan people from the inside out. Though, at that point, Melanotan was more likely going to emerge in pill form and not as an implant.

There is something of a black market scandal occurring in people’s frenzy to buy Melanotan. Apparently, pharmaceutical company Epitan was in charge of Melanotan development until it was shut down in 2005 in the wake of accusations regarding unregulated drugs, shared syringes and other risks. That’s when Clinuvel was formed, and it developed the implantable Afamelanotide. The CEO of Clinuvel has told several media outlets that any products sold online as Melanotan are not safe and are not Clinuvel-made Afamelanotide. So it looks like we’re going to have to wait for that implant to be 100% ready instead of resorting to shady Internet exchanges.

It is unclear how invasive the Scenesse implant is, but I have a feeling that it will be a popular alternative to sunless tanners if and when it hits the market. What do you think? Would you try the tan-plant?

Editor's Note: As of August 2014, this is the status regarding availability of the Scenesse implant:

Currently SCENESSE® is only available by a physician's prescription in Italy, under a law called 648/96, and in Switzerland. The 648/96 listing allows Italian physicians to prescribe SCENESSE® to Italian citizens diagnosed with erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP). For more information on this scheme, see Italian access scheme 648/96. For more information on the Swiss access scheme, please contact us.

Both the Swiss and Italian schemes are only available to permanent residents of these countries.

SCENESSE® cannot be obtained outside of Clinuvel's clinical trials anywhere else in the world.

Read more at www.clinuvel.com