Dermatologists say an injectable tanning drug that reportedly also raises libidos and lowers appetites is being used in B.C., despite not being approved by Health Canada.

The product, Melanotan II, is legal to buy online for research purposes but hasn't been cleared for human use in either Canada or the U.S., and Dr. Jason Rivers says the purported beauty product may cause unappealing side effects.

Research shows some users have had their moles become "more atypical looking," Rivers said, while others have experienced "an eruption of new moles coming on the body."

"It is possible that people who are prone to skin cancer may be harmed by these products, not helped," he added.

The drug is an analogue of the body's melanocyte-stimulating hormone, which causes pigmentation in the skin after exposure to sunlight or, in some cases, during pregnancy.

That effect and others have led Melanotan II, also known as the "Barbie drug," to gain popularity abroad, where some users say it has curbed their hunger and even caused erections in men.

"This combination makes it a winner for many people, I assume," Rivers said.

But the product, which must be taken regularly, is not recommended by health care professionals or the Canadian Cancer Society, which warns against all forms of ingestible and injectable tanning products.

"Health Canada has not approved the use of any of these products for tanning purposes. Until they have been reviewed and experts believe they are safe, these products should be avoided," the CCS website says.

Dermatologists recommend anyone looking for a quick tan use spray products instead, and continue to cover up and use sunscreen whenever possible.

Rivers said Melanotan II should effectively darken the skin, but won't be much help to fair-skinned individuals who generally have trouble tanning.

"Using these products is not going to induce a golden tan in somebody who's red-headed and freckled," he said. "They'll get a bit of a tan, but it's not going to be a deep chocolate colour."

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Nafeesa Kareem