BBC investigation shines spotlight on harmful tanning products promoted by influencers

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Tuesday 29th March 2022

A BBC investigation has revealed influencers are promoting harmful tanning products on social media. 

Researchers working for BBC News found that several social media influencers were advertising products that are illegal in the UK. The banned products contain Melanotan-2, an artificial hormone, which speeds up the tanning process. 

Dermatologists say that the illegal products are dangerous and encouraged people who have bought the unlicensed drug to stop using it immediately. There is a link between untested products and an elevated risk of skin cancer. The Advertising Standards Agency has also urged influencers to act responsibly and ensure that companies or products they endorse or promote are legal. 

Liv and Elaina have personal experience of buying banned products. They wanted to enjoy the same deep tan sported by influencers online and decided to buy some of the products they saw on social media. Liv opted for tanning injections and Elaina bought a nasal spray. 

Liv injected herself for two months and followed the jabs with sunbed sessions. She suffered headaches throughout but felt that it was worth it, as she developed a golden tan. After eight months, however, Liv noticed a suspicious mole on her leg and she went to see her GP. The mole was raised and it was the size of a pea. She knew something wasn’t right and her worst fears were confirmed when she was diagnosed with stage one melanoma, a form of skin cancer. She was 27 and had to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous tissue. She described the experience as “terrifying.”
Elaina, 19, developed side-effects as soon as she started using the tanning nasal spray. Her face turned bright red, and she felt as though she was burning up. At first, she told herself that it would take time for her body to get used to the spray, but a week later, she could barely breathe and her throat closed up. Doctors told her that the nasal spray was the cause and said they had seen other people with the same symptoms linked to illegal tanning products.

The British Association of Dermatologists stressed that the only safe way to tan is to use fake tan. Experts said they were on “high alert” for side-effects and symptoms of illegal tanning products and encouraged all social media users to avoid buying products that contain Melanotan-2.