Tanning injections, nasal sprays harmful to health

Share on Pinterest
Tanning products containing melanotan II, sold as injections or nasal sprays, are hazardous to health. Maria Maglionico/EyeEm/Getty Images
  • Some social media influencers have promoted tanning products containing an illegal hormone called “melanotan II”.
  • Research has linked melanotan II to conditions such as skin cancer and kidney infarction.
  • Experts say people should avoid unregulated tanning products and regulators should do more to educate the public about their dangers.

Some social media influencers have recently promoted tanning products containing melanotan II, an illegal artificial hormone that can speed up tanning. These products come in the form of injections and nasal sprays.

Authorities in several countries have issued safety warnings regarding the use of melanotan II due to its link to conditions such as skin cancer and kidney infarction.

To learn more about melanotan II, Medical News Today spoke with four experts about the risks of using the hormone, what regulators could do to prevent its use, and safe alternatives.

“Melanotan II is a synthetic melanotropic peptide that is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is not approved for human use,” said Dr. Anand N. Rajparadermatologist at the University of Kansas Health System.

“It is either injected into the skin or inhaled through the nose. It works by stimulating our melanocytes to produce melanin, a skin-darkening pigment,” he explained.

In conversation with DTM, Dr Faraz Mahmood Alifrom the Department of Dermatology and Wound Healing at Cardiff University, UK, listed several side effects of the drug:

“In addition, there are long-term concerns about the increased risk to develop new moles and skin cancers like melanoma,” Dr. Ali said.

When asked what regulators can do to prevent people from using melanotan II, Dr. Faraz replied: “[t]here, there needs to be increased awareness of the potential harms of melanotan use, especially for young people who may be subject to misinformation.

“Social media and other popular media must do more to weed out false or misleading content. [while] allowing experts to disseminate scientifically accurate information,” he added.

“More studies and case reports are needed to determine harms and unknown long-term side effects. People who want to consider tanning options should do so by discussing the options with a dermatologist,” he explained.

DTM also spoke with Professor Tony Cassprofessor of chemical biology at Imperial College London, UK, who was involved in a recent analysis of 10 tanning kits.

While Professor Cass and his colleagues expected to find around 10 ingredients in a licensed drug, they were shocked to discover that some of the products analyzed contained over 100 unidentified ingredients, alongside melanotan II.

“With unregulated/illegal products, the label contains no information and, as our analysis showed, there were many other components, [and] there is no way for the consumer to know what it is,” said Professor Cass DTM. “Regulation is very difficult in this case, especially since promotion based on internet influencers is difficult to control anyway.”

“Educating consumers can help, although as we see with smoking, even dire warnings don’t necessarily work. Internet companies […] could use AI [artificial intelligence software] put a warning on the screen, but I’m not sure they have the will to do that,” he added.

“We already know the harmful effects of chronic sun exposure, including skin cancers and premature aging. Therefore, this method of tanning should always be avoided,” Dr. Ali emphasized.

“Sunless tanning options are the safest to consider long-term, including spray-on bronzers and dyes. Always consult a dermatologist to discuss potential risks, side effects, and benefits before embarking on any new treatments.

– Dr Faraz Mahmood Ali

Dr Rajpara agreed that spray options could be an alternative:

“Self-tanners and sprays containing DHA (dihydroxyacetone) are generally considered safe as long as you avoid inhalation and eye contact. However, they offer no sun protection, so sunscreen is always a must.