Scientists create a “super melanin” skin cream to heal sun and chemical burns

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Imagine a skin lotion that not only protects you from the harsh sun but also repairs damage from burns or harmful pollutants.

That’s exactly what researchers at Northwestern University have developed: a special kind of synthetic melanin that could revolutionize how we take care of our skin.

Melanin is the natural pigment in our skin that helps protect us from the sun. When you tan, that’s melanin at work.

It also fights off damage from things like pollution. The scientists at Northwestern have created a supercharged version of this substance that’s even more powerful at healing skin injuries.

When skin gets burned, by the sun or chemicals, it creates harmful particles called free radicals. These can lead to skin aging and even skin cancer if left unchecked.

But the new synthetic melanin cream can be applied to the skin to speed up healing by mopping up these free radicals.

Dr. Kurt Lu, a dermatologist and one of the study’s leaders, explains that every day, our skin is under attack, especially when we’re out in the sun without protection.

Over time, this leads to older-looking skin. But their new creation, a synthetic melanin, can scavenge more harmful particles than our natural melanin, acting like a super sponge to remove factors that damage the skin.

The synthetic melanin is different because it’s designed to be more efficient at grabbing and neutralizing free radicals. The result? When rubbed onto the skin, it’s a see-through cream that helps skin heal, not just on the surface but throughout the body.

Initially, the team tested the synthetic melanin as a sunscreen. It did a great job protecting skin from damage. They then wondered if it could also help heal skin injuries after they happened. It turns out, it could!

Dr. Lu imagines this cream could be a daily skincare staple, used before and after sun exposure to not only reduce skin damage but also promote skin repair. Imagine a sunscreen that also helps your skin heal from the wear and tear of daily life.

The cream doesn’t just sit on top of the skin; it helps signal the body to start the healing process, quieting down the immune system’s inflammatory response that can sometimes make things worse. When they tested it on human skin in the lab, they saw that applying the cream after a skin injury led to much faster healing.

Beyond just sunburn, this synthetic melanin cream could be a big deal for other types of skin damage. The researchers have even looked at using melanin in clothing to absorb environmental toxins, like nerve gas.

The potential benefits don’t stop there. Because melanin can protect against high-energy radiation, it might be useful for treating skin burns from radiation exposure, which could be a significant advancement for cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.

The researchers are working towards getting this cream tested in clinical trials to see how well it works for real patients. They’ve already found out that the synthetic melanin isn’t irritating to human skin, which is a great first step.

So, the next time you’re out and about, keep in mind that in the not-so-distant future, you might be able to soothe your skin with a cream that not only shields you from the sun’s rays but also heals the hidden damages of daily life.

The study that explains all of this was published on November 2 in the journal Nature npj Regenerative Medicine. Keep an eye out—super melanin could be a game-changer for skincare!

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