Albinism is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to absence or defect of tyrosinase, a copper-containing enzyme involved in the production of melanin.
Their greatest enemy is the sun as affected people are more susceptible to sunburn and putting them at increased risk of skin cancer.
In the East African country one in every 2,500 inhabitants is a person with albinism and the average life expectancy of the affected is 30 years.
Therefore the challenge has been to develop a sunscreen for this population with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 to distribute it to 2000 people suffering from albinism in North Tanzania.
RDTC has been working on this since November 2012 and since 2013, BASF has provided ingredients and the expertise for the further expansion of the production; and now there has been further developments.
"First, we only delivered free ingredients for sunscreen" says Uli Osterwalder, an expert at BASF for the segment sun protection. "Now we are working together on a suitable sunscreen that protects the skin of affected local people under extreme conditions even better from the rays of the sun."
In addition to a higher sun protection factor (SPF 50), the new sunscreen should have above all a high absorption of UVA rays and a long lasting protection.
"As opposed to UVB rays, UVA rays penetrate the skin deeply. They can alter cells in the long term and thereby promote the development of skin cancer," says Mafalda Soto Valdés from the Spanish development aid organization AFRICA DIRECTO.
"RDTC wants to protect people with albinism from the extreme high sun radiation at the equator in the best possible way. We want to provide medical advice and support and supply them with the sunscreens necessary for survival. BASF is an important partner in this endeavour.”
However, BASF does not shy away from the fact that a more effective alternative is not going to be easy to develop as more than 90% of all sunscreens available in Europe are oil-in-water emulsions.
“They are easy to apply, are easily absorbed and assure a comfortable feeling on the skin; however, they cannot withstand the hot African sun. They are simply washed away through increased sweating," explains Osterwalder.
Therefore, a BASF team of sunscreen experts wants to develop a water-in-oil emulsion together with representatives of RDTC. "It is not absorbed as quickly but it offers long lasting protection," says Osterwalder. In the long term, the new sun protection emulsion should replace the existing sunscreen.