The research, which has been published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, could be the biggest breakthrough in sun care. In turn it could also contribute to reducing skin cancer - currently the fast growing type of cancer.
Indeed, the scientists say that the new development could take sunscreen products the next step towards providing total protection from the sun. Currently sunscreens only filter UVA and UVB rays, but the new ingredient contains an active ingredient that helps 'mop up' the free iron released when skin burns.
The release of iron through sun exposure also exacerbates burning and inflammation as well as the build up of harmful sunlight-generated free radicals. Because of the newly developed ingredient this effect is greatly reduced, which in turn can lessen the risk of developing skin cancer.
The scientists say the new ingredient is light responsive, which means it only becomes active when it is exposed to UV light, avoiding potential side-effects from long-term exposure to the active properties of the drug.
"We wanted to find a way of mopping up sunlight-generated free iron that produce harmful radicals during exposure to bright sunlight in order to prevent the unwanted side reactions that can lead to skin damage and ultimately cancer," said Dr. Charareh Pourzand from the University of Bath, who has worked on the project in collaboration with Dr. James Dowden from the University of Nottingham.
"The best way to do this is using chelators, drugs that bind and export iron from the body," he added.
Prototypes are currently being tested using skin cultures and the scientists say that once this testing is complete the possibility of it being licensed for cosmetic applications would become possible once safety regulations are fulfilled for relevant international bodies.
The researchers, who were funded by the Wellcome Trust Showcase Award, also had to overcome a series of hurdles working with these chelators, the first being that their long-term use can lead to toxicity, starving skin cells of the necessary iron to perform normal biological processes.
Added to this chelators are ineffective protectors of cells and many are patented, making it difficult to carry out research work with them.
However, after three years of research the team manage to narrow down a series of chelators that were strong enough to export an excess of iron, that did not effect the cellular process and that were not patented.
The researchers say that once the trial period and safety evaluations are over, they are hoping their work will lead to sunscreens that prevent burning, reduce cancer risk and that will last longer - three hours between re-application, as opposed the currently recommended two hours.