Having glorious, golden tanned skin is a beauty standard that many of us aspire to but with the warnings about the dangers of UV rays, surely there has to be a safer way? The desire to avoid the damaging effects of the sun has led many people to look for an alternative, and more recently this has included tanning injections.

However, although these injections provide that all-important bronzed look without the need to bake your skin in the sun, they’re not the panacea that many were hoping for. Injections come with their own set of risks, some of which are substantial. Here we’re going to take a look at injections for tanning and the side effects you could suffer.

What are Tanning Injections?

Tanning injections are a relatively new product so it’s worth pausing for a moment to look at exactly what they are and how they work.

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Exactly like other types of fake tan, they don’t require any UV rays to provide a golden, bronzed appearance and to make it look as if you’ve spent a fortnight on the beach. The benefit of fake tans is that they’re suitable for all skin types, even if you don’t tan naturally, you can still end up with beautifully glowing skin.

Melanotan injections are illegal in the UK as there are no studies into the long-term impact on health. Two different types are available, Melanotan I and Melanotan II. The latter of these, in particular, has risen sharply recently.

The injections use a synthetic hormone to produce melanin, the pigment that changes the skin to the brown colour associated with a tan. Purchased in a powder form, the Melanotan has to be mixed with sterile water before being injected, typically into the fat around the stomach area.

Melanin shouldn’t be confused with melatonin; this is a different hormone which occurs naturally within the body and is responsible for regulating your body clock, among other functions. It doesn’t play any part in tanning.

How did injections become available?

If you’re wondering why tanning injections are available, given the very real concern over their safety, the answer is that originally the product was created for medicinal use.

Developed at the University of Arizona in the 1980s, the compound was intended to treat debilitating skin conditions such as vitiligo. Increasing melanin in the skin provides relief from the symptoms, but it was noticed that it also caused a darkening of the skin. It was at this point that its potential use for aesthetic purposes was identified.

At first, it was believed that the injections could actually be beneficial for skin health by acting as a natural barrier to sun damage. This type of drug is known as a photoprotectant and slash the chances of developing a deadly melanoma.

However, the drug has never been provided with a license for cosmetic use, and even for medicinal purposes can only be used in limited doses. This is because no studies have been carried out on the long term effects of these injections and there are concerns that regular or extensive use could increase the risk of skin cancer, rather than cut it.

What are the side effects to these injections?

Often referred to as the “Barbie Drug”, there’s no suggestion that the injections don’t work. The problem is that there could be a high cost in return for getting a tan. As mentioned above, none of the regulatory bodies around the world have been willing to grant a license for cosmetic use. In many countries, despite Melanotan being classified as a prescription drug, there are no products with licenses for medical use either.

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The reason for this is that the long term side effects are simply unknown. Until more studies are done, it’s not possible to say whether there are any detrimental effects.

However, it is possible to say with certainty that there are some tanning injection side effects which could be experienced straight away.

A plethora of short-term side effects have been reported by users, including:

  • Nausea
  • Facial flushing
  • Stomach pain
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Altered mental state including depression and panic attacks
  • Freckling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Spontaneous and uncontrolled penile erections
  • Darkening and enlarging of existing moles.

It’s this last symptom which has been the most concerning for researchers, as it indicates use of the injections could hike up the risk of skin cancer.

Are there any other complications?

Aside from the possibility of long-term risks and short-term ill-effects, there are other problems which could be associated with the use of Melanotan. These are linked to poor hygiene or not following the instructions for use correctly.

Administering your own injections isn’t easy and you could end up causing tissue damage and bruising. In some cases, this damage can be permanent, leaving you visibly scarred or bruised.

As well as getting the technique right, it’s essential to be absolutely scrupulous about following the right procedures because otherwise, you could be putting yourself at risk.

For example, using sterile water to mix up the powder may seem like an unnecessary precaution. However, if you risk using regular water you could damage the red blood cells, cause kidney problems and experience infections or abscesses.

Finding a sufficient supply of clean needles is another factor to consider. You should never consider sharing needles, even if you know the other person and feel confident they are in good health. Diseases such as hepatitis and HIV are spread by using shared needles; in many cases, the person may be unaware that they’re infected so it’s not sufficient to simply rely on them, to be honest about their health.

Not a risk worth taking

There are lots of other ways to get a tan that looks natural, without risking damaging your skin and potentially your long-term health in the process. Much more research needs to go into the long-term use of injections for tanning, especially given the warning signs of increased mole size and changes in colour. Don’t risk your health simply to get a golden tan when there are safe alternatives available.

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