Melanotan, aka the “Barbie Peptide,” Is Highly Controversial — Here’s Why

Melanotan, aka the “Barbie Peptide,” Is Highly Controversial — Here’s Why

The effects of Barbiecore are being felt far and wide. The upcoming Greta Gerwig film, “Barbie,” is impacting more than just your nail choices and the color you dye your hair; in fact, a drug called the “Barbie” peptide is starting to pick up steam. But it’s not all high heels and dream houses.

Otherwise known as melanotan, the “Barbie” peptide has drummed up quite a bit of controversy since its inception. It was originally created in the 1990s to treat rare genetic diseases and skin conditions but, as with many medications, has grown in popularity for its myriad of off-label uses. Now, it’s touted for its ability to give you your “dream body” — hence the doll reference — as well as an all-over tanner appearance, but the injection comes with a laundry list of risks and side effects. To start, it’s not approved by the FDA and is illegal to use without a prescription (but more on that later).

Ahead, two doctors explain more about melanotan, aka the “Barbie” peptide, including what it does and why you should likely steer clear of it.

What Is Melanotan?

Created in the 1990s, melanotan works by “stimulating certain naturally occurring mechanisms in the body,” Rahi Sarbaziha, MD, a doublt-board certified celebrity integrative aesthetics doctor, tells POPSUGAR. “The peptide was originally designed to treat skin conditions in the body, so it still works as a way to cure or control certain diseases.”

However, over the years, it’s become most well-known for its ability to trigger melanogenesis, the production of melanin in the body. This, in turn, makes your skin look tanner. However, that’s not the full extent of what the drug does to the body. It has also been found to stimulate weight loss, and increase libido.

“Its main function is to bind to the melanocortin-1 receptor in your body, which causes increased melanin production,” says Neil Paulvin, DO, a NY-based longevity and regenerative medicine doctor. “It can also bind to other receptors responsible for appetite, metabolism, and sexual desire.”

Mild weight loss is a secondary benefit of melanotan. “It is not as effective as other weight loss peptides, such as semaglutide (aka Ozempic) or Mots-C,” says Dr. Paulvin. Traditionally, it’s administered via injections but it also comes in creams and even melanotan nasal sprays.

“The combination of tanner skin, a reduced appetite, and an increased sex drive is where the nickname, ‘Barbie’ comes from,” says Dr. Rahi.

Melanotan Side Effects and Risks

Like with all drugs, melanotan comes with a myriad of side effects and risks; however it’s important to note in this instance, the medication doesn’t have FDA approval. “One of the main concerns around the ‘Barbie’ peptide is that you can’t control how much melanogenesis it stimulates,” says Dr. Rahi. This means not only that you can’t control how tan you get, but it can lead to something far more serious. “An uncontrolled, overproduction of melanin can potentially lead to melanoma.”

But that’s not where melanotan’s potential risks end. “The ‘Barbie’ peptide can have many side effects, such as increased mole production, nausea, vomiting, involuntary erections, kidney failure, and involuntary movement,” says Dr. Paulvin.

What’s more, even after you stop taking the drug, “the melanin produced while taking melanotan is not reversible,” says Dr. Paulvin. Dr. Rahi adds, “While some peptides may offer temporary benefits while in use, their effects may diminish or stop once the usage is discontinued. However, moles, spots, or other side effects may be permanent.”

Melanotan Isn’t FDA-Approved: What That Means

The Food and Drug Administration approves medications after rigorous research and testing. “The lack of FDA approval means that there is no regulation to the drug’s contents or application,” says Dr. Paulvin. As Dr. Rahi adds, this “adds another layer of risks to the drug.”

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