It’s starting to heat up again now that winter is coming to a close, so it’s time to think about getting back in the sun and all of the great holidays we have planned.
We also need to think about sun safety when we’re going out – luckily scientists have found a unique way to ward off skin cancer, and it’s been right under our nose this whole time.
The humble tomato could be the answer to blocking out infrared rays that typical sunscreens cannot. Infrared rays make up to half of the sun’s energy and one type in particular, infrared A, can penetrate the deepest layers of the skin.
Sunscreens on the market today do not protect against infrared rays, so scientists have tried to look for a solution.
And new research in animals has found infrared A may create skin cancer when combined with exposure to UVB. But scientists also found infrared A may also contribute to ageing of the skin – they suggest it alters some of the biological processes involved in maintaining healthy skin cells, affecting the production of collagen, the protein that acts as building blocks for the skin. This could lead to wrinkles, sagging and ageing.
Researchers at the University of Kiel in Germany found that mice exposed to UVB and infrared A rays together developed faster-growing skin cancer tumours than those exposed to UVB light alone, though those exposed to infrared A alone did not.
This means, according to Dr Nick Lowe, a consultant dermatologist at London’s Cranley Clinic, “There’s no conclusive link between infrared A exposure and skin cancer as there is with UVA and UVB rays, but there is emerging evidence that they may be involved in some way when combined with UVB”.
Professor Jean Krutmann of the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, says the evidence strongly suggests infrared A damages the skin deep down by interfering with enzymes that maintain healthy skin renewal.
“This means more collagen is broken down than is replenished, resulting in premature ageing of the skin and loss of elasticity”, she said.
Professor Krutmann has received a grant to use a lamp that mimics UVA, UVB and infrared to do more studies on mice.
She strived to find something that would protect the mice against infrared A and found that some antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, and chemicals such as coenzyme Q10 may be able to help repair damage caused.
But perhaps the most important key to reversing the affects of sun damage is lycopene, a compound commonly found in tomatoes.
The best way of getting a concentrated amount of the crucial lycopene is to take tomato pills, which can be found in health food stores.
Dr Lowe takes lycopene (an antioxidant found in tomatoes and red fruit) and co-enzyme Q10 supplements, and wears UVA/ UVB sun protection cream. “Sun protection clothing is also effective, but often overlooked,” he says.
The Daily Mail reports a spokesman for the British Association of Dermatologists said more evidence was needed on infrared A before advice on effective sun protection could be changed.
It looks like it’s too early to say whether lycopene can definitely stop infrared ray damage but it’s worth a shot, right?
Tell us, will you take tomato pills based on this evidence? What do you do to stop wrinkles? Or have you embraced ageing?