A CORK GP has expressed concern for a number of patients injecting themselves with products in their quest for the perfect tan.
Dr John Sheehan from the Blackpool Bridge Surgery voiced his fears around the “underground nature” of tanning injections and the threat they are posing to society.
Melanotan or Mel, known colloquially as the Barbie drug, is a synthetic hormone that increases the levels of melanin in the skin resulting in a darkened complexion.
Its well documented potential side effects are thought to include acne, stomach pains, eye disorders, sickness and even heart problems. There are two forms available, Melanotan I and II, which are diluted in water prior to injection.
Dr John Sheehan said the underground nature of tanning injections makes the situation all the more worrying.
“The issue is under-reported because a lot of people won’t admit to using injections,” he said.
“People will keep it quiet and underground for their own reasons. Naturally, they won’t talk about it with their doctor because they know he/she won’t approve. You would hope that anyone taking these would be using clean needles, but because it’s so unregulated there is no way of knowing.
“There is always that risk of a contaminated batch.”
He said that many are attracted to tanning injections for their instant gratification.
“The desire to get an immediate fix can be so strong people will go to extreme measures. Nonetheless, they have no idea what they’re putting into their bodies and that’s never a good idea.”
This isn’t the only extreme beauty practice Dr Sheehan has come up against in his years as a GP.
“The only thing extreme enough to compare it to is people injecting themselves with anabolic steroids which are used in many cases to improve physique. Tanning injections are a relatively new phenomenon that have only really come under my radar in the last 10 years.”
The GP does his utmost to educate users on the risks they face.
“It’s hard to know if patients are using tanning injections over sunbeds unless they tell you. I have gone through the risks with patients, but unfortunately, some already have their minds made up. There is little you can do in these situations other than advise people. You can highlight the risks and explain how damaging this can be for their health in the long term.”
He said the results of dangerous tanning practices are visibly obvious.
“I’ll see people with skin damage far worse than you would expect from someone of their age.”
Dr Sheehan also emphasised the danger of sunbeds adding:
“There have been girls availing of sunbeds ahead of their confirmation which is never recommended. Findings from the Irish Cancer Society revealed that 50pc of tanning salons allowed underage customers access to tanning beds.
“We need more environmental officers to assess tanning salons and ensure they are complying with regulations.”