Lifestyle and exercise

Tanning jab warning

A synthetic hormone injected to “top up tans” is illegal and should not be used, warned The Independent today. Widespread coverage has been given to the news that Melanotan, injected under the skin to encourage the skin to darken, has never been safety tested by any Western government healthcare agency.

The drug is sold online or under the counter at gyms and beauty salons and because the drug is self-injected, there are fears that users are putting themselves at risk of infections such as hepatitis or HIV.

Anyone currently using Melanotan should stop doing so immediately for their own safety. The drug has not been safety tested by the UK medicines safety agency. Users are advised to consult their GP for advice.

Fake tanning lotions and sprays may represent a safer option for those who wish to have tanned skin, but they should be avoided by pregnant women.

What is Melanotan and how does it work?

Melanotan increases the levels of the pigment melanin in the skin. This pigment is part of the body’s natural response to the sun, and increasing levels of melanin results in skin darkening or tanning. There are two forms available, Melanotan I and II, which are diluted in water before being injected.

Who decided that it is illegal?

All medicines that are used in the UK have to be licensed by a government agency called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The MHRA ensures that all medicines are effective and safe enough for use before granting them a licence for use.

Melanotan has never been through this licensing process and it is therefore not legal to market or supply this product. The MHRA has issued a warning not to use Melanotan. They are also contacting companies that advertise or supply Melanotan to notify them that it is illegal.

Why is it illegal?

Melanotan is not legal. It has not undergone the stringent safety and effectiveness testing that all medicines have to undergo before they can be licensed for use. This means that the side effects of this treatment are not known. In addition to the possible side effects of Melanotan itself, there are also other potential dangers.

Using non-sterile water to prepare the injections can cause serious blood infections, and sharing needles spreads blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. Injections by untrained individuals can cause skin and tissue damage, and might result in permanent or life-threatening injury.

If I shouldn’t use this, what is a safer way of getting a tan?

Intentional tanning in the sun or using sunbeds should be avoided as they accelerate skin ageing, and can lead to skin cancer. People should remember to follow Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart rules for sun exposure:

  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
  • Make sure you never burn.
  • Aim to cover up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses.
  • Remember to take extra care with children.
  • Then use factor 15+ sunscreen.

Fake tanning lotions and sprays may represent a safer option for those who want to have tanned skin, but they should be avoided by pregnant women.

I've used Melanotan, what should I do now?

You should stop using the products immediately. Consult your GP and tell them if you think you have had an adverse reaction to Melanotan, if you may have used a shared needle, or if you have re-used needles.

NHS Attribution