Fake tan and melanotan

Fake tan bottles

Instead of tanning, we encourage everyone to own their own natural skin tone, and enjoy the sun safely. Find out more about our Own Your Tone campaign this summer.

But if you really want to change the colour of your skin, it’s safer to use a fake tan product on your skin than to sunbathe or use a sunbed. Fake tan changes the colour of your skin and gives you a tanned look.

Does fake tan affect cancer risk?

  • Fake tan products contain DHA, a substance that reacts with the top layer of your skin to change its colour. We need to know more about the possible long-term effects of products that contain DHA and of spraying fake tan onto the body. But the evidence we have so far suggests that it’s safer to use a fake tan product on your skin than to sunbathe or use a sunbed. And in 2010, experts at the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety concluded that fake tan products containing DHA are not a health risk
  • Sunburn can greatly increase your risk of skin cancer. And neither a sun tan nor a fake tan will protect your skin from too much UV. Even if your fake tan says it contains sunscreen, use shade clothing and sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and 4 or 5 stars to protect your skin.

This doesn’t apply to Melanotan injections, which are illegal in the UK.

What is Melanotan and how does it work?

Melanotan is a synthetic hormone that works by increasing the levels of melanin, a natural dark pigment in the skin. Melanin causes the skin to darken or tan. There are 2 types of Melanotan – Melanotan I and Melanotan II.

It is currently illegal to sell tan injections such as Melanotan, as this product is unlicensed.

Why is Melanotan illegal?

Melanotan is illegal in the UK because:

  • It has not been tested for safety, quality or effectiveness.
  • No one knows what the possible side effects are or how serious they could be.

The MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) tests medical products in the UK. They are warning people not to use Melanotan and they say that the product is being "advertised and sold illegally".

David Carter, from the MHRA said:

"We are warning people not to use this product. Don't be fooled into thinking that Melanotan offers a shortcut to a safer and more even tan. The safety of these products is unknown and they are unlicensed in the UK. The side effects could be extremely serious. If you have used either of these products do not use them again and if you have any concerns you should seek advice from your doctor." 

Read more in our Melanotan science update blog.

What should I do if I’ve used Melanotan?

You should stop using Melanotan, and see your GP if you think that you may be at risk from using or sharing needles or are showing any unusual side effects.

Last reviewed

Rate this page:

Currently rated: 2.3 out of 5 based on 30 votes
Thank you!
We've recently made some changes to the site, tell us what you think

Find a clinical trial

Search our clinical trials database for all cancer trials and studies recruiting in the UK

Cancer Chat forum

Talk to other people affected by cancer

Nurse helpline

0808 800 4040

Questions about cancer? Call freephone or email us

Share this page