Back to News

Sunday, May 20, 2001

A Pill To Banish Deadly Sunburn

Drug could spell end of tan creams

A pill to … end the misery of sunburn could be on sale this summer.

Tests on human guinea pigs have proved that the drug — called BioAstin — can reduce sunburn... Unlike creams it protects the whole body and does not come off in water.

News … was last night welcomed by British cancer charities.

Skin cancer, which is caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays, is Britain’s fastest growing killer and the pill is expected to be effective in countering it. However, trials are in their early stages and experts warned that people who take the pill should continue to use protective lotions as well.

Cancer Research Campaign information officer Sara Hiom said: ‘It’s far too early to tell if taking a pill will completely protect against skin cancer. If people take it and don’t use a sun screen, thinking they are safe, they may put themselves at risk. Our advice is still to cover up.”

Boots, the UK’s largest producer of suntan creams, was unaware of the tablet’s development in America. But a spokesman said: “It sounds very interesting.”

The Department of Health said clinical trails would be needed before the pill could be marketed in Britain. A spokesman said: “All the evidence would have to be examined by the Medicines Control Agency.”

The drug was originally marketed as a dietary supplement but users reported its unexpected benefits.

Scientists believe that it creates a natural protective barrier against ultraviolet rays. Chemicals in the drug come from algae found in dry, sunny climates. Substances which stop the algae being destroyed by harsh sunlight also protect humans. The pill is already on sale in the US, where thousands of users claim they can now go out in the sun without getting burned.

The tablets have been most effective on people with fair and sensitive skin, although in a small number there was no benefit.

The tablet is made by Hawaii-based company Cyanotech. The firm’s senior biologist, Kelly Moorhead, said they were “very excited” about its prospects. The company is in talks with major drug firms over joint marketing and sales.

Despite the growing death toll, one Briton in seven does not use a sunscreen. There are about 40,000 new cases each year, causing around 2,000 deaths. The most common form of skin cancer is a basal cell carcinoma which is not malignant.

The more serious form, a malignant melanoma, causes around 75 per cent of all deaths from cancer but can be treated if caught early.

The sunscreen market is worth £156million a year and research shows that getting a tan on holiday is more important to people than anything bar the weather.

Experts warn that sunscreens may actually increase the risks by encouraging us to spend more time in the sun than is healthy. And lotions may only give one third of the protection sunbathers think they are getting.


No lotion is a sore point

A scientific breakthrough is usually something to celebrate and the anti-sunburn pill, whose arrival we report today, promises both to make life easier and, more important, to fight the growing danger of skin cancer. And yet we suspect it will be a disappointment to red-blooded couples on beaches from Bournemouth to Bermuda.

The sight of people rubbing sun lotion on to glistening bodies and its distinctive sea-side aroma are an essential part of the beach holiday, even in a British summer. A day by the sea will never be the same again. The new pill will make beating the UV rays about as exciting as making a cup of tea. It might be safer but it will never be half as much fun. Let’s just hope our temperamental weather gives us the opportunity to crack out the lotion one last time.