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New 'Insurance Policy' for Sunburns in Development

We've all experienced a nasty sunburn. We either forgot to put on sunscreen or applied too little. Unfortunately, repeated burns put you at risk for skin cancer.

A product now in development may actually be able to repair sun damage after sun exposure. Improved knowledge about the sun's damaging effects have made sunscreens much more powerful than they used to be.

Contrary to what you may believe, they don't block all of the sun's dangerous rays. CBS2's HealthWatch reporter, Paul Moniz, tells us about what could be the next wave of sunscreens.

Dermatologists say we're really lax when it comes to sunscreens, and studies indicate that even when consumers do apply them, they don't use nearly enough. Dermatologists recommend using a full shot glass (1 ounce) of sunscreen for each application. Most people don't use nearly that amount.

Properly applied sunscreen doesn't block all of the sun's damaging rays, though. As skin cancer rates continue to rise, the reliability of sunscreens is a growing concern. More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year.

"Ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes mutations in our DNA of the skin that leads to skin cancer," says David Leffell, MD, a Yale University dermatologist.

There is hope, though. Leffell says that a clear gel, made from a yeast enzyme, could actually reverse DNA damage.

Molecular biologist Danny Yaroush developed the product in a Long Island lab. "The difference between this drug and sunscreens is that sunscreens must be applied before sun exposure, but this drug works like a morning-after cream," Yaroush explains.

The lotion, named Dimericine, is still being tested and is not yet approved by the FDA, but the results of one test group are encouraging.

Dermatologist Elyse Rafal, MD, participated in a study of 30 patients along with Megan Fruchter. All have a very rare, potentially deadly genetic condition known as xeroderma pigmentosum, or XP.

Patients with XP develop skin cancer at 1000 times the normal rate. Sun exposure for as little as 5 seconds can severely damage their skin. Fruchter has to dash out of the doctor's office to her mother's car and immediately cover herself with a blanket to minimize sun exposure. Yet after using the lotion for 18 months, Fruchter saw improvement. "She really didn't develop any basal cells. I think her skin looked much better; the freckling was decreased," her mother says.

The lotion has to be refrigerated. "It was cold. I didn't like putting it on very much," Fruchter admits.

Among all study participants, researchers found a 30% reduction in basal cell cancers and a 68% reduction in actinic keratosis, a premalignant form of cancer that affects one in six people in the United States.

The hope is that this research can be applied to the general population, making Dimericine available over the counter within the next few years.

"From a dermatologist point of view, I think this is really going to ba miracle medicine, especially since it is in a topical form. It can be used in combination with sunscreen. We really don't have a product like this," explains Rafal.

So far, patients have developed no side effects or allergic reactions to the lotion. It will next be tested on patients whose immune systems have been compromised from organ transplants, and who are more likely to get skin cancer.

While the research is promising, it could be another 4 years before the lotion is available to the general public.

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