Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a drug that mimics sunlight to make the skin tan, with no damaging UV radiation involved.
According to researchers, the drug tricks the skin into producing the brown form of the pigment melanin in tests on skin samples and mice.
Evidence suggests the drug will work even on redheads, who normally just burn in the sun.
The team hopes the discovery could prevent skin cancer and even slow the appearance of ageing.
UV light makes the skin tan by causing damage.
This kicks off a chain of chemical reactions in the skin that ultimately leads to dark melanin – the body’s natural sun block – being made.
The drug is rubbed into the skin to skip the damage and kick-start the process of making melanin.
It is a markedly different approach to fake tan, which “paints” the skin without the protection from melanin, sun beds, which expose the skin to UV light or pills that claim to boost melanin production but still need UV light.
However, the team is not motivated by making a new cosmetic.
Tests, detailed in the journal Cell Reports, have shown the melanin produced by the drug was able to block harmful UV rays.
Eventually the scientists want to combine their drug with sun-cream to give maximum protection from solar radiation.
The way the drug works could also allow a ginger tan, as the genetic mutation that causes red hair and fair skin disrupts the normal process where UV light leads to dark melanin.
It is not yet clear if the drug might have the unintended consequence of affecting the glorious hair color, but it is thought the hair follicle is too deep in the skin for the drug to reach.
Anyway, whether you are ginger, blonde or brunette, the drug is not yet ready for commercial use.