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The future of tanning and skin lightening

Reviewed by SarahK May 12, 2011 3 Comments
The “grass is always greener” saying has always been truer than not. Blondes get sick of their golden locks and long for auburn tresses, brown-eyed people often covet striking blue or green irises and short people wear heels to disguise their lack of height while tall people slouch in an attempt to hide their statures. Perhaps one of the foremost examples of “the grass is greener” saying is expressed when pale people desire darker, tan complexions, and when those with darker skin tones wish they could lighten their complexions.

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.
  • May 16, 2011

    by jc

    man, that would be something, getting a tan without sun damage! after my early thirties i stopped tanning altogether and got serious about protecting myself and using good skincare...every spring/summer the green eyed monster in me arises when i see these bronzed gorgeous people everywhere! i used to try self tanners but they never turn out the right color on me and my regimen takes up enough time as it is...i hope these scientists work it out while i'm still young enough to enjoy it! :)

  • May 12, 2011

    by Shannel

    Well as a shout out from the freckled girls, this sounds promising to me. The only other active I've found that would compete with hydroquinone was the paper mulberry extract, but honestly I haven't found it in anything besides Marie Veronique. Cha-ching. I'll have to keep eyes out for this new evergreen. Thanks for the info!

  • May 12, 2011

    by Candy

    WOW! Thanks for the exciting information, Sarah!

    An all natural skin lightener would be wonderful, and hopefully, the cosmetics companies these scientists are working with will reel in their tendencies to combine chemicals with the remedy so that the end product will still be all natural.

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