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Scientific advancements could eliminate irritations caused by sunscreen

Most sunscreens rely on chemicals, which often double as allergens, to protect skin from the sun.

In trying to protect their skin from sun damage, many outdoor lovers end up suffering from another painful condition – photo-contact dermatitis, caused by certain chemicals in sunscreen. Fortunately for these individuals, a bacteria regarded by scientists as "nature's sunscreen" may soon be harnessed as a hypoallergenic ingredient in sunscreen.

There are actually two type of reactions an individual can experience: Contact dermatitis, caused by the mere application of a sunscreen product, and photo-contact dermatitis, caused by the sun's exposure to an area of the skin covered with sunscreen.

Scientists at the University of Gothenberg have been able to produce an artificial form of scytonemin, which could replace chemical compounds currently used in sunscreen. While these compounds are not allergens themselves, a chemical reaction occurs when they come into contact with sunlight and absorb UV rays. One such chemical filter, BM-DBM, breaks down harmful ultraviolet light into several different products, one of which is a known strong contact allergen.

This chemical reaction can cause photo-contact dermatitis, especially on the parts of the skin that receive the most sun exposure. Dermatitis is characterized by a red, swollen rash that often itches. In extreme cases, dermatitis can cause blisters to appear.

Individuals who think they may have a sunscreen allergy should contact a dermatologist to determine treatment options. An alternative to chemical absorbing sunscreens is "blocking" sunscreens, which are not known to cause photo-contract dermatitis. These sunscreens include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Because they literally block UV rays from reaching the skin by reflecting them away, these lotions are thicker and do not absorb into the skin as well as their chemical absorbing counterparts. 

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