For some, a suntan is so socially desirable that they’ll do anything to get one. Many expose themselves to heavy doses of sunlight, to the point of burning, and some use sunbeds as well. Both can increase the risk of skin cancer.
The latest fads in the tanning craze are two products called Melanotan I and Melanotan II. Both are injected into the skin and are available over the internet, in some tanning salons and in body-building gyms. Retailers claim that these products are safe and effective ways of getting a tan, and some even suggest that they could protect against skin cancer.
But the truth is that these are counterfeit products that have not yet been properly tested. We don’t know whether they are safe or dangerous, effective or useless. A new report suggests that they could even lead to changes in a person’s moles.
For now, only one thing for sure – selling them is illegal.
How do they work?
Both Melanotan products work by increasing the levels of melanin, a natural dark pigment that provides some protection from the sun.
They are both manmade versions of a natural protein called “alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone”, or alpha-MSH. This protein encourages cells in the skin to produce melanin, so by mimicking it, Melanotan products also lead to more melanin in the skin.
It’s important to remember that tans only provide a small measure of protection against UV radiation. You can’t rely on them to protect your skin against heavy doses of UV or to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Even if you have a tan, you can still burn and still increase your risk.
Do they work?
Melanotan I and Melanotan II have both been tested in small clinical trials. These have generally found that they can increase levels of melanin, as they are meant to do. One study even found that it could provide some protection against sunburn and the DNA damage that accompanies it.
So the researchers working to develop Melanotan may be on the right track, but we stress that these studies are in their early stages. They need to be confirmed in larger trials. So far, no regulatory body in any country has approved either of these products.
Untested, illegal and potentially dangerous
In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is a Government agency responsible for making sure that the benefits of any medicines outweigh their risks. The MHRA have warned people against using Melanotan.
According to them, the product is being “advertised and sold illegally”.
Melanotan has not been tested for safety, quality or effectiveness. Therefore it is not known what the possible side effects are or how serious they could be. People should be aware of this should they be offered the product… The MHRA has currently contacted 18 different companies explaining that any supplying or advertising of Melanotan is illegal and any websites etc should be taken down.
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.”
Other countries have issued similar warnings. For example, the US Food and Drug Administration also warned people against using Melanotan and said that selling the product “violates federal law”.
What are the risks?
Aside from their effects on moles, Melanotan products could have other potential risks.
For a start, because these products are being sold illegally, there is no way of knowing if they are what they say they are, and not contaminated by dangerous chemicals. Nor do we know how they might interact with any licensed drugs a person is taking.
Melanotan is injected with needles and if that is not done hygienically, it could transfer dangerous infections such as HIV and hepatitis from person to person.
If you have used Melanotan and have experienced unwanted side effects, talk to your GP. They can give you advice and help you to fill out a yellow card, which allows the MHRA to keep track of the side effects of commercially available medicines.
Effects on moles
A new report from the British Medical Journal, published today suggests that this so-called “tan jab” can also change the appearance of moles. The report describes the case of two women who went to a skin clinic with intense tans (despite having fair skin) and moles that had changed rapidly.
Both used sunbeds and shortly before their moles changed, both had injected Melanotan I and II, bought over the internet.
Moles that change quickly can be signs of skin cancer. The big worry is that by affecting the shape, size or colour of moles, Melanotan could lead to incorrect diagnoses, false alarms or unnecessary operations.
It’s a high price to pay for something that could just as easily (and more safely) be achieved through using a fake tan.
Ed May 26, 2010
Due to high volumes of automated spam, we’ve regretfully had to disable comments on this post.
Cathy January 25, 2010
i just think that if it has yet to be tested that you should not be doing it. Who knows what if it chemicly changes your skin and causes cancer. the opisite of what they want you to think.
i persoally think it is very creapy that you could put yourself in so much wrisk for a tan. go outside.
Dave August 8, 2009
This drug does have extreme effects on people, as i have seen with friends. some look ridiculous. but with careful use it could be beneficial especially to those who dont tan easily.
however i would warn not to take this until it is sold in licensed stores
afamelanotide June 2, 2009
Folks, this isn’t a forum to discuss using the melanotan peptides or one’s experience doing so. This blog entry is here as a warning.
Flash Gordon June 2, 2009
I’ve used MT-2 and I think it was from China. I don’t know how pure it was but I’m so white that in the winter you can see through my skin. I’m very tan from MT-2 and a few visits to a sun booth. First my freckles got dark and then they connected. I did get nausia and I wish they would make this legal so a person would know what they’re getting. I’ve had lung cancer and my father had skin cancer so I felt I’m a good candidate for trial.
maxine mcilwaine May 21, 2009
I want to use melanotan 11 but I am subject to drug testing in my job. Are the ingredients legal and are they allowed to be used in the uk.
Melanotan.org March 12, 2009
You’re relying upon what is in effect a tabloid to cite concerns?
Why not cite a source a bit more authoritative and less salacious like the UK’s MHRA?
” Melanotan has not been tested for safety, quality or effectiveness. Therefore it is not known what the possible side effects are or how serious they could be. People should be aware of this should they be offered the product.”
“The MHRA is the government agency responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe. No product is risk-free. Underpinning all our work lie robust and fact-based judgements to ensure that the benefits to patients and the public justify the risks. We keep watch over medicines and devices, and take any necessary action to protect the public promptly if there is a problem. We encourage everyone –the public and healthcare professionals as well as the industry – to tell us about any problems with a medicine or medical device, so that we can investigate and take any necessary action. http://www.mhra.gov.uk”
Henry Scowcroft March 12, 2009
Scott – We did in fact link to the MHRA website and quote them extensively in the original post.
The fact that stories about possible side-effects amongst some melanotan users are appearing in the media is a worry, and only serves to highlight the uncertainties around these injections and the need for proper studies.
Melanotan.org March 12, 2009
Fair enough, still based upon what I know having been involved with folks who began sharing their usage stories of the peptides in our forums starting in January 2004 the tabloid Daily Mail really has their story mixed up. There’s a big difference between medically recognized side effects and anecdotal reports. The Daily Mail’s story relies heavily on scattered anecdotal reports and labels these “side effects”.
Responsible journalists are going to make clear the difference rather than melange the two.
I would suggest to anyone wanting to warn the public about the potential hazards associated with taking drugs like the melanotan peptides to sooner rely upon higher quality sources like the following British Medical Journal editorial letter from substance abuse experts from Liverpool John Moores University :
Melanotan.org March 13, 2009
You might want to follow this thread below which is related to this editorial letter.
Scott – sorry, this got trapped in our spam filter, only just saw it. Henry
Henry Scowcroft March 13, 2009
Great link, and valid points – cheers for posting that Scott.
Henry Scowcroft March 12, 2009
Sarah – while you’re right that people with red hair and blue eyes often have very pale skin, and thus more susceptible to sunburn, melanotan injections are still not properly clinically tested. In any case, the degree of protection given by a tan is still relatively low – so people still need to take other protective measures, like clothing, sunscreen and shade, to protect themselves in the summer sun.
On top of this, melanotan’s side effects aren’t fully understood and could potentially be harmful. Indeed, there are already stories circulating of quite serious side effects amongst some users
We need to see data from proper clinical trials about the safety and effectiveness of these products. Currently, as Ed pointed out above, their sale and advertising is illegal.
Sarah March 12, 2009
What about people with red hair and blue eyes? who are just unfortunate and dont take a tan? Would this be an advantage to them and work?
Melanotan.org January 30, 2009
A rather interesting article just published by Wired Magazine:
Melanotan.org January 29, 2009
This news should come as no surprise. Dark moles and freckles are dark owing to their melanin content. Anything that causes melanogenesis (even something as simple as normal sun bathing) is going to darken moles and/or freckles (really any points of accumulated melanin). Anyone who sunbathes to a certain degree is going to notice a darkening of their moles and/or freckles. Ordinarily this type of darkening happens fairly evenly across the skin and moles/freckles concurrently. What the melanotan peptides do in certain individuals however is tend to make moles darken in a non-concurrent manner. The moles and freckles tend to get darker before the skin that surrounds them does. This sets up a disagreeable contrast. Once the surrounding skin darkens in accord with the moles this contrast is not as pronounced and the newly darkened moles do not appear so prominently.
Ed Yong January 29, 2009
As we say in the post, Melanotan is being assessed in rigorous clinical trials, some of which have found promising results. But these are still under way and as yet, the product has not been regulated for use. We are not criticising Melanotan itself, but we are concerned about unregulated and illegal use.
Also, Lesley Rhodes is a woman.
Melanotan / Afamelanotide January 29, 2009
Please know that Dr. Lesley E. Rhodes ([b]LER[/b] one of the dermatologists who authored the BMJ’s report) actually works with Clinuvel the company developing melanotan one for EPP, PMLE, AK, PDT, etc.
He is mentioned in this 2005 Clinuvel Annual Report:
as well as this 2006 annual report:
He is also one of the Principal Investigator’s in Clinuvel’s clinical trial of Melanotan one for PMLE: