Tanning the old-fashioned way.

Tanning the old-fashioned way. Photo: Joe Armao

YOUNG Australians in search of the body beautiful are turning to a new, and potentially lethal, technique to enhance their appearance – illegally imported tanning injections.

Thousands of Australians are understood to be ordering the drug Melanotan over the internet, which is used to darken the skin, but doctors warn it can also accelerate the development of skin cancers.

Melanotan is classified as a prescription-only medicine  and importing it without doctor approval can lead to a $170,000 fine and 12 months imprisonment.

Melanotan.

Melanotan.

In 2012, Customs and Border Protection seized 48 shipments of Melanotan-type products that the Therapeutic Goods Administration declared illegal but sources who use the product regularly have told Fairfax Media underground use of the drugs is rife in Australia.

One user, Sarah, agreed to talk to Fairfax Media on condition of anonymity. The 19-year-old said she gets the injections at a friend’s house every week. It costs between $1 and $10 a shot.

She works as a promotions model and the pretty brunette said she preferred the injections to sunbeds or lying on the beach.

‘‘Everything goes darker including your freckles but there are no tan lines and you don’t get burnt,’’ she said.

‘‘Pretty much everyone I know uses it ... even some of the guys.’’

The drug also has the side effect of causing prolonged erections in some men.

Chief executive officer of the Cancer Council Australia, Professor Ian Olver, said using the drug could actually increase the risk of skin cancer on existing moles as they became more pronounced and injecting any illegal substance increased the risk of blood-borne viruses.

‘‘It’s a dangerous  thing to do – to take a drug that hasn’t been fully tested and to inject it into yourself – it’s not known if it’s safe because it has not been rigorously tested in the way that a commercial drug would be,’’ Prof Olver said.

And he said the known side effects included nausea and continuous erections.

‘‘It was going to be used as a drug to treat erection problems at one stage and the melanin product is half of melanoma, so you have this related drug and you don’t know what they do and you are injecting it, which is the silliest thing you can imagine just for a cosmetic reason.’’

But body building forums promote the injections as a safe alternative to sunbeds.

Online 10mg bottles of Melanotan II sell for $69 plus postage.

The TGA has not registered Melanotan for use in Australia.

USERS' STORIES

From the Bodybuilding.com forum:

One user weissistschoen said: ‘‘It works well for me. The tan looks very natural. I am asked at least once a day, ‘Where did you just get back from'? Or ‘Where did you get that great tan'? What I love most is the skin-busting boners you get. A side effect I will NEVER complain about.’’

While another forum user using the name tan injection warned other users about side effects. ‘‘I have got and am using the tanning injections and they do work. They make me feel quite nauseous for around 5-10 minutes and then it settles down. I have been using one tenth of a mill every other day and have been on the sun bed twice for six minutes and I have got a whole lot browner. I have had them for nearly 2 weeks now having one injection every two days. They are great apart from the nausea.’’

But another poster called BadIntentions stopped his course after his moles became darker. ‘‘You get a bunch of new moles/freckles, and the ones you already had become darker. I stopped for this reason.’’

One poster called trauzti said: ‘‘So according to this link, you can get an erection AND a nice suntan at the same time? Sweet!’’