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Caffeinated Sunscreen


BRUNSWICK, N.J.—Morning isn’t morning with a pot of coffee percolating in the kitchen; and now, sunscreen may not be sunscreen without it either. A new Rutgers study is giving coffee and its main active—caffeine—more backing for its role lowering skin cancer via UV protection. 

The study supports caffeine as a guardian against certain skin cancers at the molecular level by inhibiting a protein enzyme in the skin, ATR (ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related). Scientists believe based on what they have learned studying mice, caffeine applied directly to the skin might help prevent damaging UV light from causing skin cancer. 

Prior research indicated mice fed caffeinated water and exposed to UVB radiation that damaged the DNA in their skin cells were able to kill off a greater percentage of their badly damaged cells and reduce the risk of cells becoming cancerous.

“Although it is known 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," said Allan Conney, professor of chemical biology and director of the Susan Lehman Cullman Laboratory for Cancer Research at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Acacemy of Sciences, found, instead of inhibiting ATR with caffeinated water, researchers genetically modified and diminished the levels of ATR in one group of mice. The results: The genetically modified mice developed tumors more slowly than the unmodified mice, reporting 69-percent fewer tumors than regular mice and four-times fewer invasive tumors. When caffeine was topically applied to the regular mice, they had 72-percent fewer squamos cell carcinomas, a form of skin cancer.

However, when both groups of mice were exposed to chronic UV rays for an extended period of time, tumor development occurred in both the genetically modified and regular mice. According to Conney, this indicates inhibiting the ATR enzyme works best at the precancerous stage before UV-induced skin cancers are fully developed.

A University of Chicago study published earlier this year also reported on UVB damage and caffeine.

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