Oil from the Bergamot fruit has been found to stimulate the tanning process. It also protects DNA from harm. Damaged DNA skin cells can lead to cancer.
Trials by scientists from the Cancer Research Campaign in Manchester and London of a sunscreen lotion containing the chemical, 5-methoxypsoralen (5- MOP), show that after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, the DNA damage is between a third and half of that sustained when the lotion is not used.
Dr Chris Potten, of the campaign's department of epithelial biology at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in Manchester, said yesterday that the lotion gave 'a very significant degree of protection' for fair skins which persisted for 14 weeks after it was last used. 'This protection is due to changes in skin tanning response making a British skin behave more like a Mediterranean skin,' he said.
Previous studies with 5-MOP had linked it with an increased risk of skin cancer. Dr Antony Young, a photobiologist from St Thomas's Hospital, London, who collaborated with Dr Potten on the seven-year project, said the study provided the first evidence of the chemical's benefits. 'The consensus view now is that the low concentrations of 5-MOP used in sunscreens outweighs any of the risk,' he said.
The incidence of skin cancer is rising steadily with about 30,000 cases diagnosed each year, according to the campaign. Malignant melanoma, accounting for 2,000 cases, has increased by 80 per cent in the past decade. The disease is potentially fatal unless caught in the early stages.
The trial was designed to mirror the exposure holiday makers get on an annual two-week Mediterranean break. Volunteers' previously unexposed skin was treated to daily exposures of UV light, after lotions with and without 5-MOP had been applied. Examination of skin samples showed that in fair-skinned types, a 5-MOP lotion protected against DNA damage.
Bergamot oil is extracted from Citrus bergamia, a bitter type of orange grown in the Mediterranean area. The oil is widely used for its 'lemony' fragrance in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry - and is contained in some sun lotions.Reuse content