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18-08-2011 | Article

Caffeine ‘sunscreen’ could boost skin protection


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MedWire News: Caffeine may be able to protect against sun damage when applied directly to the skin, research shows.

Experiments on mice found that caffeine guarded against the development of skin cancer, raising hopes that a similar benefit might also occur in humans.

The study was performed by Allan Conney (University of Washington, Seattle, USA) and colleagues, who wanted to expand on reports that mice that drank caffeinated water gained some protection against skin cancer.

"Although it is known that coffee drinking is associated with a decreased risk of non-melanoma skin cancer, there now needs to be studies to determine whether topical caffeine inhibits sunlight-induced skin cancer," explained Conney in a press release accompanying the study.

Instead of giving the mice caffeinated water, the team genetically modified the animals so that their skin contained reduced levels of a protein called ATR. Drinking caffeine has the same effect on this protein, the researchers explain.

The mice were then exposed to ultraviolet B radiation - the damaging rays from the sun that are a major cause of skin cancer.

The experiment showed that genetically modified mice developed skin tumors more slowly than normal mice. Genetically modified mice also developed fewer tumors overall and were less likely to develop aggressive forms of cancer that spread to other parts of the body.

Conney and team say that their study supports a role for the ATR protein in driving the development of skin cancer, as well as raising the possibility that caffeine could help protect against the disease.

"Caffeine might become a weapon in prevention because it inhibits ATR and also acts as a sunscreen and directly absorbs damaging ultraviolet light," said Conney.

The study is published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Joanna Lyford