Many of us go to great lengths to score a golden tan but medical experts say that ‘tanning injections’ – a term that’s been gaining traction recently and amassing nearing a billion views on TikTok – should never be included in our bronzing repertoire.
From wearing a tansie to bed (got to protect those sheets) to slipping your mitt over a coat hanger for an extended arm that reaches that spot on your back, applying self-tan requires a lot of skill and patience. Which leads us to the question: if there was an injectable of some kind that could give you a tan without slathering on product or mastering the art of faux tan– would you do it?
It sounds great in theory, but the reality is that tanning injections are far more dangerous than we ever imagined…
What are tanning injections?
Tanning injections usually contain a chemical known as melanotan, which is the most popular form of melanin injection in the UK.
“Melanotan is a synthetic hormone which is injected via a needle under the skin to stimulate the pigment cells in your body to produce more melanin, which in turn gives you a tan,” says Dr Ross Perry, skin cancer expert and Medical Director of Cosmedics.
What are nasal tanning sprays?
While it is most commonly available as an injection, melanotan is also found in tanning nasal sprays, a method that, when inhaled, can cause temporary tanning of the skin.
According to Healthline, when you inhale melanotan through the nose, it then enters the bloodstream via the mucus membranes and stimulates the production of melanin; the substance produced by melanocytes in the skin’s surface, which causes the skin’s pigment and colour.
How do melanin injections and nasal sprays work?
There are two forms available, Melanotan I and II, which are diluted in water before being injected or inhaled.
“Melanotan I is an alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha MSH) analogue which stimulates the production of eumelanin (tanning pigment) in the skin,” says Dr Catherine Borysiewicz, Consultant Dermatologist at Cadogan Clinic. “It was developed and registered for the treatment of a condition called erythropoietic protopophyria – a rare inherited condition that causes sufferers to develop prolonged burning pain, swelling and redness after one to 20 minutes of sun exposure.”
By comparison, “Melanotan II as a tanning injection gives quicker, longer lasting results”, says skin expert, Lorena Öberg. “However, Melanotan II will not work without some form of UV exposure, so you need to be getting a minimum of 20 minutes of natural sunlight a day to help activate the melanotan injections.”
The majority of tanning injections and nasal sprays contain Melanotan II.
Are melanin injections and nasal sprays legal in the UK?
Unlike Botox and other injectable skincare, tanning injections aren’t performed by professionals in clinics. In fact, both injections and nasal sprays are technically ‘illegal’ to sell in the UK.
“Melanin injections and nasal sprays are illegal to sell in the UK as they are unlicensed,” says Dr Borysiewicz. “This is because they have not been tested for safety, quality and effectiveness and there are serious concerns about potentially dangerous side effects.”
However, it is not illegal to take tanning injections or nasal sprays.
The dangerous side effects of melanin injections
The biggest worry with these injectables is that stimulating melanin production and cells can also stimulate dangerous changes in the skin.
“There have been case reports from users of Melanotan of moles that have rapidly changed and become darker,” says Dr Sophie Shotter, award-winning cosmetic doctor at The Cosmetic Skin Clinic. “Medical professionals would be very worried about anything which ‘stimulates’ melanocytes, because it carries the same risk of cancerous changes associated with stimulating them via sunlight or sunbeds.”
Some report hyperpigmentation as a side effect after the tanning injection due to the overproduction of melanin. Short-term side effects can also include facial swelling, nausea, flushing, vomiting and appetite loss.
“Also, bizarrely, type II can be associated with spontaneous erections in males!”, says Dr Jane Leonard.
How popular are melanin injections?
Despite being illegal in the UK, the amount of people who use tanning injections in this country is very high and seems to be increasing. Dr Borysiewicz reveals: “I see seasonal increases in the use of tanning injections and worryingly this year the usage seems to be peaking again.”
And it seems the popularity of melanin injections stretches to celebrities and influencers too. “Many models and celebrities are doing it and prefer this option over sunbeds, which cause skin ageing,” says Lorena. Influencers have promoted the injections on their social platforms in the past and, despite the risks, still continue to do so.
Worryingly, the term has 983 million views on TikTok to date. While some still advocate for the tanning injections, even adding that they have to weigh up the cons to stay tanned, more videos are beginning to surface that highlight the worrying dangers and misconceptions around these injections and nasal sprays. One TikToker explains what she wishes she’d known about tanning injections revealing to her followers that the ‘damage can’t be undone’.
Meanwhile, doctors and dermatologists are taking to the platform to urge of the dangers too. One TikTok video by leading aesthetic doctor Dr. Sophie Shotter went viral for highlighting the risks of nasal sprays.
‘Just because it’s going up your nose doesn’t and not being injected doesn’t make it safe,’ she warned. ‘The nasal lining is very thin and drugs are absorbed very effectively. The side effects can be nasty and the long-term consequences… potentially lethal.’
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Where are people sourcing them?
It’s the question we’re all asking: if melanin injections are illegal, where on earth is everyone getting them? “Unfortunately, a quick Google search will bring up various retailers who are selling them online and some gyms and beauty salons offer them under the counter, too, but they are not licensed in the UK and are illegal to sell or market,” explains Dr Borysiewicz.
Is there such a thing as ‘safe’ tanning injections or nasal sprays?
The short answer is no. “They haven’t been properly tested, are not regulated and the reports of damaging side effects are commonplace and so they should be avoided,” says Dr Perry.
Are tanning injections safer than sunbeds?
While sunbeds are incredibly dangerous – and according to skin cancer charity Melanoma UK can increase a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 75% – that doesn’t make tanning injections or nasal sprays a better alternative.
All three are harmful, dangerous and not recommended by experts. What experts will recommend is opting to use a fake tan to help boost your glow. Choose one that has been formulated with your skin in mind with ingredients like hyaluronic acid to help support the skin’s barrier and moisture levels.
What are the biggest misconceptions?
If one thing is for certain, it’s that there’s a lot of false information out there on the internet about the efficacy and safety of melanin injections.
To prevent any further confusion and to help clear up any uncertainty, we’ve asked Dr Borysiewicz to reveal the hard truth. Here’s what she has to say…
- In no way can any form of injection give you a safe tan without side effects.
- Tanning injections do not protect against UV damage – it is categorically untrue that they do.
- Melanin injections are illegal in the UK. This means any that you do purchase have not been subjected to the rigorous testing necessary to ensure safety and efficacy. The true side effects and long-term consequences are actually unknown.
And with new tanning innovations coming across the beauty desk every day, self-tanning is only getting easier, faster and more stain-free as the years go by. So don’t risk it, just fake it.
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