Tanning cream might also prevent skin cancer

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Scientists say they have discovered a cream that may ward off skin cancer by tanning skin a golden bronze without exposure to the sun.

Tests so far have been confined to mice, but researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children’s Hospital in Boston say the findings would mark a seismic shift in the biology of tanning if the cream was determined to be safe for humans.

Unlike sunless tanning lotions that color the skin, the cream alters skin pigmentation much like a suntan. The more days it was applied, the darker the skin became. A heavy application over more than a week left some mice nearly black.

The mice experienced no dangerous side effects, scientists said.

And researchers said the findings suggest people may be able to change their skin pigmentation to ward off skin cancers like melanoma, the world’s fastest-growing cancer.

“We just kind of smeared it on once a day, five days a week. Within a couple of days you could clearly see they were becoming darker,” said David Fisher, director of the Melanoma Program at Dana-Farber and senior author of the study published in the journal Nature on Thursday.

The cream “switched on the tanning machinery” in mice skin cells that were genetically designed to resemble those in blond and redheaded people, the study said.

People who tan easily, or have naturally dark skin, are far less likely to develop skin cancer than those with fair skin, the study said, a point which Fisher said underlined its potential significance in reducing cancer rates at a time when more fair-skinned people are living in sun-belts like the southern United States, Australia and the Middle East.

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