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It is illegal to sell tanning products that contain an artificial chemical called Melanotan-2, which has been linked to cases of melanoma. But the dermatologist Doctor Catherine Borysiewicz says these products are on the rise among young people due to a new nasal spray formula that makes it easier to use, as well as misleading information online.
Products containing Melanotan-2 can increase the production of melanin, the pigment which changes skin colour but have been shown to have side effects ranging from nausea to stomach cramps and skin cancer.
Doctor Catherine Borysiewicz, based at the Cadogan Clinic in Chelsea, London, has personally had young patients come to her with “very worrying” mole changes after using products containing Melanotan-2.
She said: “Every couple of years they [melanotan products] seem to rear their head again.
“When I was first aware of them about 10 years ago it was a slightly different thing because when people were purchasing it they would need to carry out an injection. This limited how popular they were.
“What has worried me more recently as a dermatologist is the fact that the formulation has been changed from an injection into an inhaled nasal spray.
“This has made it much more… I guess if you like… user friendly… but I hate using that term because these products are horribly illegal and shouldn’t be out there at all.”
Melanotan-2 products are unlicensed in the UK and largely untested, and the UK’s health product regulator, the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency issued a warning in 2013 about the substance after it received reports of 74 separate reactions to the product from 2008.
“These are not produced with the same safety as you would have if you were, say producing a paracetamol tablet or a pharmaceutical product,” said Doctor Borysiewicz.
Despite the side-effects and its banned status, Melanotan-2 is available on the internet for less than fifty euros and is being promoted by TikTok influencers.
One of the websites supplying the product, which can be found on the first page of a Google search, even boasts about how it creates the “perfect tan” but “without the side effects”.
Doctor Borysiewicz admitted she is “really upset” that the product is being promoted to vulnerable young people.
A BBC investigation foundseveral online influences which it believed to be selling the products.
As part of the investigation into these products, Imperial College London analysed 10 popular tanning kits, and found more than 100 unidentified ingredients.
Normally legal medicine is expected to have around 10 ingredients in it.
Doctor Borysiewicz has offered some advice to people who might be concerned about their children using these products.
She said: “Make sure that kids are aware of this product, that they know that it’s potentially harmful.
“And if they know that their kids are using it to kind of, you know, get them signposted to actually kind of read these articles [about Melanotan] and see a little bit more about products and the potential risks of them.”
She also recommended encouraging young people who have been using the product to go for a skin check, especially if they’ve been using UV sunbeds with the product.
The doctor also explained how to know if a mole has become dangerous.
“So the moles themselves become very darkly pigmented and a disordered structure when analysing it down a dermascope,” the doctor said.
Normal moles are generally round and oval, and no bigger than 6mm, however healthier ones can be bigger than this.
As soon as you see changes in a mole, you should see a GP as soon as possible, according to the NHS.
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