Are Tanning Injections Safe?

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Tanning injections have become an increasingly popular way for people to get a bronzed look without exposure to UV rays. However, these types of injections are largely unregulated, and research shows they may not be as safe as some believe. This article examines the safety concerns around tanning injections and whether they can be considered a wise option for achieving a sun-kissed glow.

What Are Tanning Injections?

Tanning injections are injections containing synthetic versions of the hormone alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH). This hormone stimulates the production of melanin, which is the pigment that causes tanning and browning of the skin when exposed to UV rays.

The two main synthetic hormones used in tanning injections are:

  • Melanotan I – A synthetic version of α-MSH that stimulates melanin production.
  • Melanotan II – A more potent version of melanotan I.

These substances are not approved for use as drugs or cosmetics in Europe, the UK, the USA or Australia. However, they are widely available online from overseas manufacturers as unlicensed and unregulated products.

When injected, melanotan I and II activate melanocortin receptors which signal the melanocytes in your skin. The melanocytes then switch on the production of melanin, which darkens the skin without UV exposure.

Are Tanning Injections Safe?

Are Tanning Injections Legal?

In most countries, including the United States, tanning injections are illegal to buy and sell. The FDA has not approved melanotan I or II for any medical uses, and distributing or importing them for human use is against the law.

The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has banned melanotan as an unlicensed medicine, meaning it is illegal to sell or supply for human consumption.

Despite the regulatory bans in many countries, these injections still make their way illegally into some markets through overseas online sellers or clandestine distribution networks. However, buyers have no guarantees about the purity, sterility or accuracy of dosing with these unregulated products.

Tanning Injections Have Not Been Proven Safe

A major problem with tanning injections is that their safety has not been established through proper clinical trials and research.

As an unproven treatment, there are considerable unknowns about the short and long-term effects of using melanotan injections. Some key safety concerns include:

  • Side effects – Studies show melanotan injections frequently cause side effects like nausea, flushing, loss of appetite and increased libido. One study found 3 out of 4 participants reported side effects. More serious effects like kidney damage may also be possible.
  • Unpredictable results – The tanning response to melanotan can vary widely between individuals, making consistent dosing and effects difficult. Some users get over-darkening or uneven patches of pigment.
  • Unknown long-term risks – As an unlicensed drug, the long-term safety of melanotan injections is unclear. One potential risk is that artificially stimulating melanin could increase melanoma risk, but more research is needed.
  • Lack of quality control – Illicit melanotan distributors are not held to any standards of good manufacturing practice. Contamination, inaccurate doses and impure ingredients are all risks with unregulated products.

Without safety testing and clinical guidance, using melanotan injections essentially amounts to human experimentation with unproven drugs. The UK’s NHS warns strongly against using illegally imported melanotan, due to the complete lack of safety data.

Dangers and Side Effects

Though touted as a safe alternative to tanning beds, evidence shows tanning injections come with considerable dangers and side effects.

Can Cause Nausea, Vomiting and Loss of Appetite

One of the most common side effects of melanotan injections is nausea, experienced by up to 80% of users in some studies. Vomiting and loss of appetite are also frequently reported. These effects are thought to occur because melanotan stimulates the brain’s satiety center.

For some people, the nausea can be severe and long-lasting after each injection. This unintended consequence can disrupt daily life and undermine the appeal of darker skin.

Linked to Life-Threatening Health Issues

Though rare, some very serious adverse effects have been linked to tanning injections like melanotan II. A 2015 case study described acute kidney injury in two bodybuilders after taking melanotan II they had purchased online. Both required hospitalization and kidney dialysis.

Another report in the British Medical Journal outlined how melanotan II triggered myocardial infarction – heart attack – in two young and previously healthy men. This life-threatening reaction appears connected to melanotan’s ability to narrow blood vessels.

While these cases are unusual, they illustrate the potentially devastating effects that can emerge with untested drugs, especially in high doses. More research is needed to clarify melanotan’s safety profile at different doses.

May Increase Risk of Skin Cancer

One potential paradox of tanning injections is that they could theoretically increase skin cancer risk. By stimulating melanin production, melanotan causes skin to darken as if tanned by UV radiation. But unlike a real tan, it does not also boost protective melanocytes and antioxidants that fight sun damage.

This means using melanotan could make skin more vulnerable to harmful UV rays, while appearing darker and falsely indicating to the body that it has protection. More research is vital to clarify how melanotan affects skin cancer risk with long-term use.

Can Cause New Moles and Alter Existing Ones

There is evidence that melanotan injections may impact moles on the skin, including changing their appearance or causing new ones to develop.

One study found 20% of subjects developed new moles after using melanotan II. Other users have reported existing moles getting larger, darker or more raised.

This mole-altering effect means melanotan could potentially make it harder to monitor skin for abnormal changes that may indicate cancer. It also supports the theory that melanotan may not safely mimic natural tanning induced by UV light.

Facilitates Over-Tanning and Burns

Some researchers warn that because tanning injections make skin appear darker, they could facilitate excessive real tanning and burns. People may mistakenly think their injected tan provides adequate UV protection.

This false sense of security could lead users to overexpose themselves to sun and risk burning. Combining melanotan with deliberate tanning defeats the purpose of avoiding UV damage in the first place.

Accounts of Harm Are Emerging Online

In addition to the documented health hazards above, worrying anecdotal reports of side effects and harm are emerging online.

Though anecdotal, these personal accounts further illustrate the range of adverse effects possible with unregulated tanning injections like melanotan:

  • “I used melanotan for 2 months last summer. I ended up in hospital with heart palpitations and later found I have a pre-existing heart condition that the drug exacerbated.”
  • “My friend used melanotan nasal spray and became an unhealthy grey/brown color instead of tanned. She suffered panic attacks too and quit after 2 weeks.”
  • “I used melanotan 2 for 5 weeks. It made me constantly nauseated and I could barely eat. Then I developed a large swollen rash all over my body and face. I looked diseased.”
  • “Please research before using! I’ve been in the ER with severe abdominal pain after taking melanotan II from a shady website.”

These anecdotal reports again underscore the serious potential reactions of improperly tested drugs, and the risks of sourcing unlicensed products online.

Expert Warnings: Avoid Tanning Injections

In light of the unproven safety and known dangers, health experts widely advise avoiding tanning melanotan injections:

  • “Unapproved, untested drugs can have unexpected and serious consequences.” – Professor David Healy, psychopharmacology expert.
  • “We strongly advise people not to inject themselves with this illegal product.” – UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency.
  • “The use of melanotan has dangerous health implications.” – Vivienne Nathanson, British Medical Association.
  • “Any drug acquired over the internet is risky. There are safer ways to get a tan.” – Dr. Sharon Wong, dermatologist.
  • “No shortcut to tanning is worth jeopardizing your health. Embrace your natural skin color.” – Alexia DeVito, researcher and skin cancer advocate.

Rather than using unlicensed products with unpredictable effects, experts overwhelmingly recommend safer options for bronzed skin like spray tans or natural self-tanners. There are also benefits to embracing paler skin, including a lower risk of skin cancer.

Regulations and Awareness Needed

The dangers of underground tanning injections highlight the need for tighter regulations around manufacturing and importing unapproved drugs. The ease of ordering melanotan online circumvents laws prohibiting its sale in many countries.

Stricter enforcement and penalties for distributing illegal injectables like melanotan could help limit their availability. Platforms facilitating access to unsafe cosmetics and drugs also have an ethical obligation to protect users.

Public awareness campaigns by health agencies are equally important to alert consumers about the perils of unregulated injectables. The more people understand the risks, the less demand there will be for risky backstreet alternatives to legal tanning methods.

Conclusion: Avoid Tanning Injections for Your Safety

In closing, evidence clearly shows tanning injections like melanotan I and melanotan II cannot be considered safe, having never undergone clinical trials or approval processes. Their short and long-term effects remain largely unknown, though serious risks like organ damage, heart problems and unintended side effects have emerged already.

For these reasons, health professionals strongly advise avoiding illegally imported tanning injections altogether. While a cosmetic tan seems enticing, jeopardizing your health is never worth the risk. Embracing natural skin tone and using safer alternatives like spray tans offer a wiser approach.

What’s clear is more must be done to protect consumers from the dangers of unlicensed drugs sold deceptively online. But the most effective solution starts with individuals – say no to risky backstreet tanning injections and value your health above any beauty ideal.

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