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Screening out sunburn, jellyfish stings

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A new kind of sunscreen hitting the U.S. market promises not only to fend off sunburns but also to protect against jellyfish stings.

Researchers at Stanford University Medical School tested the new product, called SafeSea, on two dozen volunteers and found it "relatively effective" in inhibiting jellyfish stings.

"It prevents stings most of the time," said Alexa Kimball, an assistant professor of dermatology who directed the study, funded in part by the manufacturer, Nidaria Technology. It was published in the journal, Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.

Israeli researchers developed the cream after noticing that clownfish - of "Finding Nemo" fame - do not get stung by jellyfish. They isolated the chemical that seemed to protect the little orange and white fish and incorporated the substance into a sunscreen solution.

"It's not like a barrier that would protect your skin, the way a scuba suit does," Kimball explained. "It's more like the jellyfish detects the chemical on you and it doesn't sting you."

At least, that's what seemed to occur when jellyfish were given a chance to sting the 24 people in her experiment. (Most of the subjects were surfers who had been stung before.)

SafeSea was swabbed on one arm of each volunteer and regular sunscreen on the other arm. Jellyfish tentacles were placed on their arms for up to 60 seconds to see what would happen.

Five of the 24 subjects reported "discomfort" on the arm protected with SafeSea, whereas 22 of them had pain and swelling on the plain sunscreen arm.

That was good news to marine biologist Paul Montagna, a jellyfish expert at the University of Texas' Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas.

Until now, marine experts could only recommend using meat tenderizer to lessen the pain from a jellyfish sting. Jellyfish are most common in the Gulf of Mexico from April through June.

"Our water is so warm that we have a lot of people swimming along the coast year round," said Montagna, a frequent victim of jellyfish stings. "There are lots of opportunities for people to get stung. I don't know this product but hope it works."

SafeSea is available online at and other sites.


(c) 2004, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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