Fake tan and melanotan

Fake tan bottles

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.

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

What is fake tan?

Fake tan refers to any product that you put on your skin to change its colour and make you look as if you’re tanned. Some fake tan products, like bronzers, lie on the skin and can be washed off with water. Others contain a substance called dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA actually reacts with the skin so the colour change can’t be easily washed off.

Is fake tan safe?

We need to know more about possible long-term effects of products that contain DHA and the possible side-effects of spraying fake tan onto the body. But the evidence we have suggests that applying a fake tan product to your skin is safer than tanning in the sun or under a sunbed.

Does fake tan protect you from the sun?

Fake tan changes the colour of your skin and gives you a tanned look.  People who use fake tan still need to protect themselves from strong sun and take care not to burn.

Some fake tan products do contain added sunscreen. But these will only give protection for a few hours after you put the fake tan on. The protection won’t last as long as the change in your skin colour does.

Remember that sunburn can greatly increase the risk of skin cancer. Don’t let yourself be caught out – use shade, clothing and SPF15+ sunscreen to protect your skin.

Fake tan tips from Binky Felstead

If you’re desperate for a tan, then it’s safer to fake it.

Made in Chelsea star Binky offers fake tan tips as part of a Cancer Research UK campaign to raise awareness of the cosmetic damage and health risks associated with using sunbeds.

Fake tan tips and advice - Cancer Research 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."

What are the risks of Melanotan?

As of August 2013, the MHRA has received 18 reports detailing 74 separate reactions which are suspected to be side effects linked to the use of Melanotan. These include stomach and heart problems as well as blood and eye disorders.

As well as the possible side effects, which we don't know much about, people have to inject Melanotan. If they share needles, they could spread diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. There may also be a risk of harm to the injected area or even injury if the injections are carried out by unqualified individuals.

It has also been reported that some people have seen moles or freckles change colour when using Melanotan. Changes in the size shape or colour of a mole or patch of skin can sometimes be a sign of skin cancer. There is a concern that Melanotan could lead to incorrect diagnoses, false alarms or unnecessary operations.

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.

Resources for sun protection campaigns and schools

Two women chatting joyfully in the sunLearn more about our sun protection campaigns and sun safety at work.

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