Claim that olive oil stops skin cancer is 'dangerous'

Rubbing virgin olive oil into your skin after sunbathing could protect you against skin cancer, claim Japanese scientists who say it works on mice.

Rubbing virgin olive oil into your skin after sunbathing could protect you against skin cancer, claim Japanese scientists who say it works on mice.

However, the suggestion was quickly denounced by British cancer researchers, who warned it could lead people to think they can stave off damage caused by the sun's ultraviolet radiation (UVR).

The new research emerged from tests on mice which were genetically engineered to be hairless. Masamitsu Ichihashi and colleagues from Kobe University School of Medicine placed the mice under a sunlamp three times a week.

Five minutes after each session, some of the mice had their skin painted either with regular or extra virgin olive oil. The rest were left unoiled. After 18 weeks, the mice not treated with olive oil started to grow tumours.

Mice treated with regular olive oil fared little better, according to the report published in New Scientist yesterday. But those daubed with virgin olive oil took an extra six weeks to show any sign of cancer.

The Japanese team suggest that this is because virgin olive oil is a good source of antioxidants. These are chemicals which "mop up" chemicals called free radicals which can be created within a cell when it is hit by UVR. Current theories suggest that free radicals can damage the DNA and may cause cancer.

The report does not say that olive oil is a sunscreen; it cannot stop UV rays from penetrating the skin. And normal after sun lotions cannot protect against sun damage.

But, a Cancer Research Campaign spokesman said: "We think that this would carry a very dangerous message, suggesting that you can retrieve damage to the skin. People already act irresponsibly when it comes to sunbathing, and the incidence of malignant melanoma - the main form of skin cancer - is going up year on year."

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