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There's A New-Age Sunscreen Compound That Could Change the Skin Cancer Game


Since graduating from medical school, I have truly seen science and therapeutic interventions evolve from the macro to the micro. Everything from cancer treatments to wrinkle creams have gotten super high-tech, targeting biological processes on a cellular level to get to the root of the problem. And that includes sunscreen.

One in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime. In fact, the incidence of skin cancer is more common than the combined incidence of prostate, lung, breast, and colon cancer. Ninety percent of these malignancies come from daily unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. So the answer is easy, right? Just wear sunscreen, and stay in the shade. Theoretically that's true, but recent news reports that have questioned the efficacy of available sunscreens are definitely not helping this dermatologists' cause.

But it's also one of the reasons why a sun cream compound called the "mitoiron claw" is being evaluated in studies. Here's how it works: Iron lives in our cells and serves many important functions (like carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body). But when UVA light contacts the skin, iron also plays a role in the formation of cancerous cells and wrinkle-causing free radicals. That's where the "mitoiron claw" comes in: It eats up the iron right where it's housed, in the mitochondria of the cell (hence the name). Tests show that when human skin cells treated with mitoiron claw were exposed to UVA, they were fully protected against damage. And that, my friends, is pretty darn amazing.

This could mean not only foolproof protection from the sun, but also less skin malignancy and, of course, fewer signs of aging. Investigators hope to see this new compound in sunscreens and products in the next 3 to 4 years. In the meantime, keep slathering on the sunscreen. One with a broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher can help keep you protected so that your largest organ remains beautiful and healthy.


Mona Gohara, MD

Oberlin-bred feminist, Yale-trained dermatologist, mother, Virgo, and lover of all things Broadway, tulle, and 80's. Favorite TV show: the Mindy Project because beauty and brains are a wonderful thing. 

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