Melanotropic peptides: more than just 'Barbie drugs' and 'sun-tan jabs'?

Br J Dermatol. 2010 Sep;163(3):451-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.09891.x. Epub 2010 Jun 9.


While ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is a major cause of skin ageing and carcinogenesis, public pursuit of a novel tanning strategy circumventing the need for UVR is increasingly reported in the media and scientific press. This involves the subcutaneous self-administration of unregulated products labelled as melanotan I and/or II, synthetic analogues of α-melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH), as obtained via the internet, tanning salons and gyms. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority has recently raised awareness of the public health risk of transmission of blood-borne viruses from the needle sharing that may occur, and of the potential impurity of these products. Dermatologists should also be aware that these agents can complicate the clinical presentation of patients with pigmented lesions; their use may be suspected in unexpectedly tanned individuals with rapidly pigmenting naevi. Meanwhile, the regulated α-MSH analogue afamelanotide (Clinuvel Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Melbourne, Australia) is showing promise for its photoprotective potential, and is undergoing phase II and III clinical trials in people with photosensitivity disorders and those prone to nonmelanoma skin cancer. The photoprotective and other biological effects of α-MSH analogues await full determination.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Injections, Subcutaneous
  • Skin Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Skin Pigmentation / drug effects*
  • Sunscreening Agents / administration & dosage
  • Sunscreening Agents / adverse effects*
  • alpha-MSH / adverse effects
  • alpha-MSH / analogs & derivatives*
  • alpha-MSH / therapeutic use


  • Sunscreening Agents
  • alpha-MSH
  • MSH, 4-Nle-7-Phe-alpha-
  • afamelanotide