A new compound promises to give skin a suntan without the sun.

For all of the fair-skinned redheads of world, we know the feeling of wanting a natural tanned glow. Many redheads tried countless sunless tanners and at some point in life, accept the skin for what it is: fair, gorgeous.. and not able to tan.

But there is hope — researchers in the US have successfully darkened human skin cells grown in a petri-dish, providing an artificial tan that lasted for days.

The Massachusetts General Hospital team in Boston have now tested the treatment on human skin and hope that it will one day be used with traditional sunscreens, potentially decreasing the incidence of skin cancer.

“Assuming there are no safety concerns, it is clearly a better option than UV exposure,” says Jerod Stapleton, a behavioral scientist at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick who studies indoor tanning and was not involved in the work. “We are talking about millions of young people potentially not using tanning beds each year. … It could be a game-changer for skin cancer prevention.”

How Does It Work?

The drug is applied as a cream to the skin. It generated a deep, cancer-protecting tan in red-haired mice. It worked by stimulating cells to produce more UV-absorbing pigments.

“When applied to the red-haired mice, they could become almost jet black in a day or two with a strong enough dose,” researchers observed. “The color fades away over time as normal skin cells slough off the surface, and skin tone gets back to normal within a week or so.”

Under the microscope, the tan produced by the compound looks just like a natural tan. But, you might be asking yourself: how is this different than sunless tanner? 

David E. Fisher, dermatology chief at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School, says, “Unlike spray tans and other sunless tanning products, they only rely on dyes to stain dead skin cells and provide no UV protection.”

Fisher emphasizes that the new compound would not replace sunscreen, but instead be used alongside it. Because the compound simply ramps up melanin production, it should work on all skin types, but could prove most helpful for fair-skinned people at greatest risk for developing skin cancer, he says.

Like fair-skinned redheads, red haired mice are also extremely susceptible to skin cancer through UV radiation. Scientists from the Boston hospital developed the new skin treatment using a class of small molecules.

Fisher said it was difficult to get the drug to penetrate human skin as a result of having tougher skin than mice.

“But ten years later, we have come up with a solution. It’s a different class of compounds, that work by targeting a different enzyme that converges on the same pathway that leads to pigmentation,” he said.

When Can It Be Used?

The process will take some time, possibly many years.

The research team is continuing to test the safety of small molecules in animals. Fisher and his team are now looking for collaborators to test the compound in a clinical setting.

What do you think about this? Would you use this cream on your skin once approved?

READ: Redheads: 6 Tips for The Perfect Spray Tan

READ: Why I Decided To Stop Fake Tanning and Embrace the Pale 

Rock it like a Redhead!