Looking at suncream in a new light

Sanjida O'Connell reports on research which suggests that preparations made to protect us from burning may actually damage the skin

For most of us planning holidays at home or abroad, packing a bottle or two of good suncream has become almost mandatory. In these days of a diminishing ozone layer and a growing incidence of skin cancer,we know that unless we stay out of the sun completely, we should wear a sunscreen with a high skin protection factor - and reapply it at regular intervals. Yet researchers from Bradford University have found that, although suncream blocks the sun's harmful rays, it may in the process damage the skin.

The major component of most suncreams and lotions is oxybenzone, a chemical that acts as a broad-range UVA filter and partially filters UVB. Now Professor John Wood, from the biomedical sciences department at Bradford, and his wife and fellow researcher, Professor Karin Schallreuter, have discovered that when worn on skin in the sun, oxybenzone is broken down into different chemicals, some of which destroy or inhibit the skin's natural defence system against sunlight.

Sunlight is dangerous to skin because it releases free radicals - unstable groups of atoms with spare electrons which harm skin cells and are thought to be partially responsible for ageing. In the presence of UVB, large amounts of an enzyme called thioredoxin reductase migrate into the nucleus of skin cells to protect their DNA from these free radicals. But the break- down of oxybenzone makes thioredoxin reductase "commit suicide", leaving skin cells increasingly vulnerable to sunlight.

The researchers point out that it is too early to say whether this reaction may have a long- term effect on the skin, or whether the protection offered by suncream itself, in absorbing UV rays, cancels out any potential for damage, and that further research is needed before anyone panics. "Our results on the direct fate of oxybenzone in the human epidermis of different skin types strongly suggest that the use of this widespread UVA filter warrants careful reassessment," advises Professor Schallreuter.

Previous research has only looked at the effect of suncream on skin cultured in the laboratory - not on a live human being in the sun. The Bradford team was able to carry out research on a human volunteer, using laser Ramen spectroscopy, a relatively new technology. Shone directly on to the skin, the laser can give the chemical signature for every substance on the skin without harming the volunteer. "It's a wonderful step forward," says Professor Wood. "The sensitivity of this technique has just got to stage where you can look [at the skin's surface]."

Leading suncream manufacturers have expressed concern at the Bradford findings and a willingness to collaborate in further research. However, they all declined to speak to the Independent.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

    £28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

    £22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

    £13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

    £20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

    Day In a Page

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border