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The future of tanning and skin lightening
Most of us know how terrible tanning is, both aesthetically and for our health. Even if you have an effective sunscreen, the sun’s rays can damage your skin if your eye is on the tanning prize and not on safety. And tanning beds might be even worse. In fact, twelve states currently have bills pending that propose age restrictions when it comes to tanning salons. So, if you haven’t found a sunless tanner that floats your boat (sometimes the streaks and orange shades just aren’t worth it), what can be done?
In the future, you may be able to actually increase the production of your natural skin pigment without the sun, tanning beds or sunless tanners. Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have found cells near the skin’s surface can be forced to produce more melanin, which would create darker skin. So far the procedure has only worked with mice, but scientists continue to work towards a “drug that could turn on production of skin pigmentation,” which would probably be available in topical form like a cream. The cream would differ from sunless tanners by working from the inside out as opposed to simply adding a layer of artificial color to the dermis.
Now what about those at the other end of the spectrum; people who want to lighten their skin? There tends to be more controversy regarding lightening as opposed to tanning, both for cultural reasons and because of the ingredients used in certain lightening products. Unfortunately, while it is relatively easy to darken skin, it’s not quite as easy to lighten it. Which is why harsh substances like hydroquinone are used in many skin-lightening products. Hydroquinone is the subject of an ongoing FDA study into its safety, and has been linked to everything from cancer to high mercury levels to hypertension.
Because of all of the safety concerns and general lack of effectiveness of skin lightening creams, I was excited to read an article that reported a possible break through. One scientist claims that he and his team have found an herbal remedy that will lighten skin without toxins; they have isolated two chemicals from the Cinnamomum subavenium plant that are able to “block tyrosinase, an enzyme that controls the synthesis of melanin, a dark pigment responsible for coloring skin.” The scientists tested the inhibiting chemicals on zebrafish embryos, which are apparently used quite often as representations of people and other animals in experiments. After being treated with the chemicals, the black bands on the embryos turned “snowy white,” as melanin production was reduced by almost 50 percent. The scientists are particularly excited because they believe that the chemicals are far more effective than anything on them market now, not to mention a whole lot safer (only a 1% concentration may be needed to get desired results). As of now, several cosmetic companies are working with the group of scientists in an attempt to come up with a product for the public.