Women Australia-wide are buying an illegal tanning substance and injecting themselves. They are putting their health on the line, writes Clair Weaver.
When Kelly McDonnell developed a golden tan, lost weight and experienced a surge in her libido, she thought she'd found the Holy Grail of bronzing products.
On the recommendation of a friend, the 30-year-old executive assistant from Sydney had been injecting herself with Melanotan II, which she ordered along with the needles, over the internet.
“It looked great at first,” she recalls. “I was really happy with it.”
Six weeks later, the solarium devotee realised it was too good to be true.
“My face went a dirty brown colour and the freckles on my face tripled in size,” she says.
“It wasn’t until people commented that I realised [how bad it was].”
This, combined with some other side effects, such as nausea, sleep problems and bruising around the injection site on her stomach, prompted Kelly to stop using the injections and return to sunbeds instead.
It may sound like an extreme way to get a tan, but Melanotan injections by young women, models and bodybuilders have become popular in recent years because the illegally imported substance gives them an all-over natural-looking colour without the disadvantages of fake tans or sunbeds — plus the potential benefits of a drop in appetite and a rise in sexual arousal. But at what price?
Major health organisations have issued public warnings about Melanotan, pointing out it hasn’t been subject to adequate testing, isn’t approved for use in Australia and could accelerate the development of skin cancers.
"[Tanning injections] haven’t gone through the sort of testing that will tell us all of the risks, particularly long-term," says Professor Ian Olver, CEO of the Cancer Council Australia.
"What we do know is that there are some odd side effects, such as erections that last a long time. That tells us we need to know more."
Read more of this story in the May issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.