A team of University of Arizona researchers has found that injections of a synthetic hormone can bring about a tanned, healthy-looking complexion without risking exposure to the harmful rays of the sun.
This may be just the solution for America's cancer-fearing sun worshipers, report the authors of a study in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"This hormone has the potential of being a major means by which people can protect themselves against skin cancer," said Dr. Norman Levine, a dermatologist at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson and a co-author of the report.
He cautioned, however, that further studies must be done to prove that there are no harmful long-term side effects. He said that the sale of the drug -- known as NDP -- was still a number of years away.
There are other problems, too. Like the fact that the synthetic tan does not darken your whole body -- it leaves your chest and stomach fish-belly white.
Nor is it likely to be the solution for people with freckles. "Frecklers will probably just get darker freckles," Dr. Levine said.
And then there are the shots -- 10 of them -- though the researchers hope to develop an oral or cream version.
Still, the new way of tanning may offer hope at a time when skin cancer has soared to record levels. Cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, nearly doubled over the last decade, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation in New York City. More than 32,000 Americans are expected to develop melanoma this year.
In the study, 28 healthy white men were given 10 injections of either NDP or a placebo over 12 days. They were followed up for seven weeks. All used a high-potency sunscreen (sun protection factor 30) daily and were told to avoid any sun between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The researchers found that the people given NDP tanned on the face and neck, and to a lesser extent on the arms and legs. Neither their trunk nor their buttocks darkened.