New Chinese tanning agent scare
Antoinette Pienaar, Beeld
Pretoria - A new chemical tanning agent available over the internet is causing quite a scare amongst the medical fraternity. The Dermatology Society of South Africa is concerned about the unregistered experimental substance which people are injecting in order to get a tan.
The distributors of the Chinese product, Melanotan II, allege that studies also show it gives men a boost in the bedroom.
Dr Hilary Carmen, secretary of the society, said they're concerned because the substance is sold directly to the public without its safety being proven and also because it causes moles to darken.
The Medicines Act stipulates that medicines which stimulate melanin production (pigment production) in the skin must be registered, yet the distributors of the products Melanotan and Betatan state on their websites that the products are not medicines.
According to the law, substances about which medical claims are made have to be registered with the Medicines Control Council (MCC).
Melanotan and Betatan's distributors allege their products stimulate the melanocytes (cells in the skin), which stimulate melanin production.
Anelle Pohl of Steenkamp & Kilian told Beeld their products are not registered in South Africa.
She receives the product from a supplier in China and started selling it last month.
At own risk
After Beeld's questions, Pohl immediately halted all sales in order to clear the matter with the appropriate authorities.
The distributors allege Melanotan II "is sold on the international market" and "is not controlled by any medicine conventions". Both warn consumers that they are using the product at their own risk.
Betatan's spokesperson was not available for comment on his cellphone, and the distributor did not respond to e-mails. He also distributes a nasal spray which reportedly contains Melanotan II.
One of Carmen's patients who reportedly used Melanotan II had a mole which darkened to such an extent that it started to look malignant.
The society has warned that sales should be stopped until the safety of the product has been established.
There is also a related product, Melanotan I, which supposedly does not help with erections, and the patent holder reportedly registered the product in Italy this year.
Last year dermatologists warned in the British Medical Journal that untested Melanotan products bought on the internet may lead to darkening of moles which could cause diagnostic confusion.
In a second article, they warn that non-approved products could be tainted and that people who inject it for the first time could develop infections due to the re-use or sharing of needles.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as the Danish, British, Norwegian, Irish and Swedish drug authorities have been warning consumers for the past four years that unregistered Melanotan products cannot be considered safe.
Several variations of the products are distributed internationally, often by Chinese suppliers.
It is reported that Melanotan II is a synthetic version of a hormone which stimulates the body's skin cells (malanocytes) to produce more melanin (pigment).
People mix the powder with water and then repeatedly inject it in the area around their navels until they achieve a tan.
Alleged side-effects include: increased libido, flushing, nausea, loss of appetite and darkening of moles.
Melanotan products or analogues thereof are apparently often distributed without the patent holders' permission.
It is unknown whether Melanotan products sold over the internet from China have been submitted to comprehensive safety and efficacy tests.