The substance works by neutralizing the free radicals which are generated on the skin by exposure to sunlight, stopping them from causing cancer. It also "mops up" the free labile iron produced by cells, preventing a chain reaction which would release more free radicals.
The project began in June 2012, when the researchers responded to Garnier and the British Skin Foundation's call to develop products capable of blocking UV-induced photodamage.
Medicinal chemist and researcher Dr Ian Eggleston said regarding their discovery: “The new compounds that we are synthesising provide a highly effective means of protection against both UVA- and UVB-induced skin damage and associated skin cancer, without inducing toxicity in cells.”
Skin cancers are caused by the skin releasing free radicals when exposed to the UVA component of sunlight. These can create damage to the fat, protein and DNA of cells.
The new, light-activated compound releases anti-oxidants which can neutralize these free radicals. It also works selectively by providing greater protection to more exposed areas.
Dr Charareh Pourzand, researcher at the University of Bath’s department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology said: “Antioxidants have already been used as a means to counteract the skin damage caused by UVA. However these agents are not effective, since the simultaneous release of iron in the cells continues to generate more harmful free radicals.”
Pourzand adds that the new compound responds to this problem by trapping the labile iron with a substance called iron chelator, preventing more free radicals from being produced. The team believes that the substance could appear in products on the market in as little as three to five years.
Influx of sunscreen developments
The breakthrough by the University of Bath is the latest in a series of developments which will transform the sunscreen industry. Earlier in August, a team of Norwegian researchers discovered a microorganism which has the capability to block very long-wave UV radiation, potentially preventing many kinds of skin cancer.
While in July, the Australian science organization CSIRO announced that it had collaborated with cosmetics company Larissa Bright to develop a UVA/UVB sunscreen filter which mimics the properties of sun-protected corals in the Great Barrier reef.
These products could be on the market in as little as two years.
In light of these recent developments, this publication asked Eggleston and Pourzand how they see the sunscreen segment evolving and the path research is likely to take in developing future products.
"Future sun creams should contain multifunctional photoprotective compounds that not only provide protection against the UVB component of sunlight, but also provide protection against the carcinogenic and aging effects of the more damaging UVA component that generates both free radicals and free iron in skin cells," they told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.com.