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Dec. 22, 2000 -- Winter's here but that doesn't mean an end to time in the sun as beach bums evolve into ski bunnies. While it's important to protect the body during outdoor activities, it's also import to protect the skin -- year round.

To avoid damage from the sun that could lead to skin cancer, researchers now believe that spreading a compound made from green tea on the body may protect you from becoming one of the million or so Americans diagnosed with the most common form of cancer.

Scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, used a byproduct of substances in green tea called polyphenols on the buttocks of six fair-skinned adults. Caucasians were chosen because they are much more likely than people with darker skin to develop skin cancers.

"We found that treatment with the green tea polyphenols interferes with DNA damage from ultraviolet radiation," says Santosh Katiyar, PhD, lead author of the study published in the journal Cancer Research. "Without protection, even a very low level of ... exposure causes significant DNA damage." And such DNA damage can lead to cancer.

The latest study was based on previous studies by Katiyar's team and others that showed green tea compound applied to the skin of mice prevented skin inflammation and cell division that are tell tale signs of DNA damage.

How does it work? It appears that the polyphenols absorb some of the ultraviolet light, Katiyar tells WebMD. He writes that they inhibit some of the radiation's penetration into the deeper layers of the skin.

He says that it's possible the green tea compound may work as a sunscreen and that using it in skin care products may be an important way to prevent DNA damage and ultimately cancer.

Stan Taylor, MD, director of cutaneous oncology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says that it's still too early to know where such research will lead.

Mary Fleischli, MD, a dermatologist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, says, "Using green tea is not an accepted modality of treatment." She adds that education is the most important way to prevent skin cancer, which is expected to kill almost 10,000 people in the U.S. this year. Prevention includes staying out of the sun, covering skin with clothing, wearing hats, and using sunscreens of at least 15 SPF. Fleischli adds, "We also teach early recognition" of cancer.

Despite all of the promising prevention and treatment advances, it still comes down to one thing. "If you can minimize your exposure, then you can minimize your risk," she says.

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