Unlike conventional sunscreen lotions which merely act as a filter for UVA and UVB sunlight, the new ingredient releases an active ingredient which mops up free iron that is released when the skin burns.
This reduces the inflammation and pain that goes with sunburn ?which is exacerbated by the iron - and also prevents the build up of harmful sunlight-generated free radicals, which can lead to the development of skin cancers.
The new ingredient is light-responsive and only becomes active when it is exposed to UV radiation in sunlight, avoiding any side-effects that might result from long-term exposure to the active form of the drug.
The researchers are currently testing prototypes of the ingredient in the laboratory using three dimensional human skin cultures, but expect to be trialling the ingredient with volunteers in the next two to three years.
"When skin is exposed to high doses of sunlight, such as when you are sunbathing, a massive amount of free iron is released in skin cells," said Dr Charareh Pourzand from the University of Bath who is working in collaboration with Dr James Dowden (presently at Nottingham University).
"This free iron can act as catalysts for the generation of more harmful free radicals that cause severe cell damage.
"Many forms of cancer are thought to be the result of reactions between free radicals and DNA, causing mutations that can disrupt the cell cycle and potentially lead to cancer.
"We wanted to find a way of mopping up sunlight-generated free iron that produce harmful radicals during exposure to bright sunlight in order to prevent the unwanted side reactions that can lead to skin damage and ultimately cancer.
Source:University of Bath