It turns out redheads held the secret of how tanning works.
As any redhead will tell you – they don’t tan in the sun, they just burn. Understanding why turned out to be the key to producing a new compound that really gets your skin to tan – even if you’re a redhead.
Tanning happens when a skin receptor called melanocytes responds to signals to create more melanin in your skin, in response to increased UV exposure. By studying the redhead equivalent of mice, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston realized their melanocytes do not respond to these signals – and it’s due to how melanocytes are encoded in the redhead version of the gene MC1R.
Further research revealed that a protein called salt-inducible kinase (SIK) is what acts as the “off switch” for melanin production in redheads. All that was left to do was order up a molecule known to inhibit SIK, apply it in liquid form on a redheaded mouse, and see what happens. Sure enough, the mouse’s skin turned almost jet black in response!
They proceeded to try it on a patch of human skin, which turned a nice shade of brown.
This isn’t just a cosmetic breakthrough – unlike today’s spray tans, this gives you a real tan – one that can help protect you against UV radiation and offer up some resistance to skin cancer. And if it keeps some people out of tanning booths, that too will reduce skin cancer.
It has yet to go through clinical trials, so you probably won’t see this on the shelves anytime soon. But it’s a really great story of an interesting breakthrough, and one that can make redheads around the world proud!
Image credit: iStock.com/kzenon