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Getting Tanned

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Planning
Topic: Variation

Very soon, thanks to Australian scientists, we will be able to get an implant inserted under our skin, wait a week and end up with an all over tan, whatever the weather. No more sneaking out to the tanning shop at lunchtime! No more cancer-promoting UV rays! The wonder drug, called Melanotan, stimulates the skin's natural pigment producing cells. But could it have any drawbacks? The activity gets students to compare melanotan's pros and cons with other tanning methods and plan investigations to find out more.

Published: 1st June 2005
Reviews & Comments: 7

Learning objectives

Pupils will improve their enquiry skills in selecting a suitable question to be investigated, and deciding the extent and range of data to be collected. They will reinforce their work on cells, by finding out which cells are responsible for making melanin in tanned skin; they will learn how different tanning methods work, including the synthetic hormone being tested by Australian scientists, and discuss the pros and cons of each method.

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9a Inheritance and selection
• identify some characteristics that are influenced by environmental factors
• identify environmental factors that influence characteristics of an individual
9M Investigating scientific questions
• know how to identify ideas that can be investigated.
• consider sample size and possible effect of other factors in evaluating the limitations of the evidence.

Running the activity

Page 1 introduces the topic and page 2 sets the first task. Students have to answer questions about getting a tan, for an advice page in a teen magazine. Individuals or small groups will need copies of page 3. This shows how each tanning method works and outlines each techniques advantages and disadvantages. If time is short, each group could answer a different 'letter', and the results could be pooled in a plenary session at the end. Page 4 sets a second task. Students are prompted to discuss what else they'd like to know about one of the tanning methods, turn it into a scientific question that could be investigated, and decide what data needs collecting.

Background Notes

Students may be interested to know that melanotan cannot be taken as a pill because it is a hormone-like protein and would be digested before entering the blood. During initial testing, melanotan was injected directly into the blood. But 1/6 participants dropped out due to side effects like nausea and vomiting. Sprays and implants are being trialled on 1000 participants. These release the drug into the bloodstream much more slowly, so they should reduce the side-effects. It will be at least 18 months before regulators give the final OK for the product to be marketable. Then tanning salons watch out!

New skin cells are made at the bottom of the epidermis and pushed upwards. Melanocytes release vesicles of melanin which are taken up by new skin cells. There is more than one form of melanin and the way it is packaged and stored in cells affects the exact colour produced, which is largely controlled by the genes. UV damage to skin cell nuclei releases signal molecules which stimulate increased melanin production. When rising skin cells get too far away from blood vessels they die, and are sloughed off the surface. Freckles occur where the melanocytes in small areas of skin produce bigger packages of melanin. Moles are the result of melanocytes clustering together in one spot, instead of being spread evenly though the skin. UV damage increases the risk of skin cancer. Cancer in ordinary skin cells is usually curable. Cancer in melanocytes is more likely to be deadly.

Students will be aware of what Michael Jackson has done to his skin. Some skin lightening treatments inhibit one of the enzymes involved in melanin synthesis. Two very rare, genetic diseases affect the skin's pigmentation. People with xeroderma pigmentosum are unable to repair UV damaged DNA and those with phenylketonuria cannot make enough of the amino acid tyrosine, which is needed for melanin production.

News links

A report on the Australian company developing Melanotan.
New Scientist
Plenty details with a skin diagram, and discussion of the various methods of tanning.
Everything you could want to know about tanning explained in bite-sized chunks.
Links to videos and an animation showing how melanotan works.
The science of tanning explained with the aid of an animation, and links to quizzes and a timeline showing how sunbathing came into fashion.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Yr9 Resource

Nov 10th, 2013

5 Star

I have done this with my low ability Yr9 and was very engaging, in particular, with a girl heavy set.

I also got the class to write a letter at the end of it as well as completing the questions as they were so engaged and focused purely on the Literacy for the letter.

Reviewer: Sarfraz Shah

Getting Tanned review

Jan 14th, 2010

5 Star

Using Melanotan in tanning the skin is an efficient way. Efficient because Melanotan is effective and you don't need to expose yourselve many times under the sun. You don't need to wait for the summer to get tan.

Reviewer: Melanotan II Sunless Tanning

The melanotan peptides

May 6th, 2009

5 Star

This is an excellent teaching tool but it needs to be updated. The Australian company has since changed it's name to Clinuvel and they have recently gotten FDA approval to conduct U.S. human trials.

Wired Science has reported on this:

cheers, - afamelanotide

Reviewer: melanotan afamelanotide

getting tanned

Jun 20th, 2006

4 Star

this complements the teacher's tv video resource that shows how melanoma can also be caused by genetic mutations

Reviewer: debra johnson

UPD8 Getting tanned

Nov 10th, 2005

1 Star

Adapted it for pupils with very poor literacy skills by putting simplified information on 4 separate cards re tanning methods and also simplifying skin diagram.
Activity worked well and as it stands with other pupils

Reviewer: Anne Davies

Getting Tanned

Jul 19th, 2005

4 Star

I liked the 'Agony Aunt' questions the best on this. It also prompted good discussion as we have a high multi ethnic population here. I'm not sure the 'white' skinned pupils were aware that darker skin pupils got tans too!

Reviewer: Sally Warton

Getting Tanned upd8 review

Jun 11th, 2005

4 Star

This is a really good upd8 activity.

The website links are very good with video clips to download as well. It gets pupils to think like scientists and gives opportunities for some great pieces of creative writing from pupils.

Richard Waller, Comberton Village College, Cambridge.

Reviewer: Richard Waller