An illicit trade in melanotan injections has found a recent growth in Ireland’s market, regardless of serious reported risks and side effects.

These tanning injections have not been medically approved for use in Ireland, and cannot be sold legally, yet they are continuing to become increasingly popular. Importers of the drug have even said that they are shipping more batches of the drug to Ireland than to any other country in Europe.

Melanotan is a synthetic hormone that upon injection stimulates the melanin, the pigment that determines the skin color of an individual and occurs naturally in the body—stopping fair skinned people from reacting painfully when exposed to the sun.

The injections use a powdered form of a chemical hormone called Melanotan that was developed at the Arizona Cancer Centre in the US as a medication to treat people with a special skin disease that makes them highly sensitive to the sun's rays. It has since made its way to the hands of men and women with a desire to have bronzed skin and a “healthy” glow.

Many studies have shown that the drug has negative side effects, but it has not hindered its growth in usage or popularity. Some well-documented short-term side effects include nausea, loss of appetite, facial flushing, aching limbs, increased libido and most disturbing, increased blood pressure.

Michael Evans-Brown from the Liverpool John Moores University says that, “Serious concerns exist about the quality of the preparations that are currently available – not only the drug content and dose, but also contaminants and sterility.”

He continued: “Some users, especially those who are injecting drugs for the first time, are reusing or sharing injecting equipment, which places them and others at risk of infections, including blood borne viruses.” 

During his research of Melanotan at the Liverpool John Moores University, he found that the stimulation of the cells that produce melanin could also lead, to cancer or organ failure. The long-term effects of taking the injections remain unknown, but according to Evans-Brown the use of Melanotan could "damage the cardiovascular and immune systems, apart from giving rise to other complications."

Experts have stated that a lot of people are putting their health at risk by using these potentially dangerous tan injections. These injections are available online as well as in some tanning salons. These experts have warned doctors to caution patients about the health risks associated with these tanning drugs.

"I'm a pale-skinned girl," says 29-year-old Dubliner Patricia, who has been injecting herself for three years.  "I've just done six injections so that my skin will tan over the next few months, she said. “It's so much easier than having to top up on a sun bed all the time, and much safer for my skin than lying out in the sun," the Dubliner told the Herald.

An illicit trade in melanotan injections has found a recent growth in Ireland’s market