Scientist at the University of Kentucky are currently testing the plant-based treatment on animal models to verify the effects it has on skin's melanin levels and are hoping that it might eventually be manufactured as a pre-sun tanning and a sunless tanning product.
"We are in the process of evaluating forskolin, a derivative of the plant Pletranthus barbatus, for safety when applied to the skin. We know it stimulates melanin, but we need to know that it does so without adverse effect. So far, results are promising," said Dr. John D'Orazio of the UK Department of Pediatrics, the Markey Cancer Center and the Graduate Center for Toxicology.
Sunless tanning has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly in view of the growing awareness of the dangers of sun exposure, whether it be wrinkles, blotches, skin thickening or the increased risk of skin cancer.
However, a number undesirable effects are associated with commonly used treatments, including an undesirable orange hew, dye becoming more pronounced in skin folds and wrinkles, as well as the general difficulty of applying the treatment on a regular basis.
The new approach is said to use a lotion that 'fools' the skin into mimicking the effects of being out in the sun, causing natural tanning to occur without the bad effects associated with UV light.
But the scientists claim that the treatment they are developing could even be used by individuals who want to avoid the sun, as they emphasize that it can help provide a significant protection against not just UVB rays, but more dangerous UVA rays that cause photo-aging and cancer.
This, the scientists say, is because people with more melanin in their skin have darker skin that is naturally more resistant to sun damage because the melanin which is actually part of the epidermis acts as a natural sunscreen against all kinds of UV radiation.
The result of the work is what is a biologically authentic, natural-looking tan, that also combines increased protection from the sun, which should go a long way to making a significant impact on the growing sun care sector.
The research has thus far shown that the effects are temporary, lasting only as long as the lotion is applied, but that this still means that people with lighter skin can mimic the same kind of natural sun protection as individuals with darker skin have - a major boost for individuals that are particularly susceptible to skin cancer.
"What is exciting to us as scientists and physicians is the possibility of reducing skin cancer by making skin more impervious to UV damage. The cosmetic effect does have a lot of people excited and that's great too. If this keeps even one person from going to a tanning bed and increasing their risk for skin cancer, then it will serve its purpose," said D'Orazio.