Sunlight and skin health

Making a Friend out of a Foe

By Johanne Kloster Ellingsen (ShareLab Staff Writer), published March 3, 2022

Most of us have repeatedly been reminded of the importance of protecting our skin from the damaging rays of sunlight. Still, more than 50% of Norwegians over 50 have sun-damaged skin, says Oscar Solér, Managing Director of the Oslo-based start-up 3Skin. At 3Skin they are aiming to flip the script, as they have been developing solutions to reduce phototoxic effects on the skin with the help from the very same agent that damaged the skin in the first place: the sun.

The reasoning behind the name 3Skin is two-fold, Oscar explains. Firstly, the name is after the three founders Ana Maria Solér, Trond Warloe and Qian Peng, all MDs, and experts within the technology the company is built on, so-called photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapy is a clinically established modality against a range of cancers, as well as various forms of skin-damage. The founders of 3Skin were heavily involved in developing photodynamic treatments against skin damage at the Oslo University Hospital in the 1990s, setting the stage for its wide-spread applications 30 years later. However, the founders reasoned that the technology could also be used to prevent the formation of the skin damage. 3Skin was born in 2016 and is currently working on developing a sunscreen that, with the help from the sun, does just that.

In short, photodynamic therapy uses a combination of a photosensitising compound and light to specifically attack and kill damaged cells. In the 3Skin’s sunscreen, 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA), a naturally occurring amino acid, is used. Once taken up by the skin cells, 5-ALA forms the photosensitising protoporphyrin-IX which, in a high concentration and upon red light exposure, will induce cell death. Crucially, sun-damaged cells (like cancerous cells) have a higher production of 5-ALA-derived protoporphyrin-IX leading to selective cell death of damaged cells in the skin after light exposure. The damaged cells will then be replaced by new, healthy cells, a process called skin rejuvenation. This process also stimulates collagen production in the lower layer of the skin, increasing skin elasticity.

That leads us to the second reason for the company name, the three biological effects of its sunscreen: protection, rebuilding, and stimulation. Using a low dose of 5-ALA in combination with vitamin D3 and protective agents against damaging sun radiation, the 3Skin’s sunscreen protects against sun, rebuilds the skin with new and healthy cells, and stimulates collagen production. And the ingenious part, the light used to activate 5-ALA-induced protoporphyrin-IX leading to removal of damage cells and induction of collagen production comes from the sun. Thus, enjoying the sun while using the 3Skin’s sunscreen has the happy side-effect of not only preventing photo-damage, but also reducing wrinkles resulting in a skin that appears more youthful.

Having found its own niche within the photodynamic therapy space, the company, now run by Oscar, the son of one of the founders who stumbled into the family business while studying industrial design, is hoping to get a product to the market within the coming years. The vision is to further develop products that prevent, and in the future potentially treat, photodamaged skin. All are while enjoying sunshine. Who said you can’t have the cake and eat it?


About 3Skin and ShareLab

3Skin is based at ShareLab (Oslo, Norway). ShareLab offers fully equipped and serviced wet labs for startups and industrial partners, as well as a community of industry experts and biotech entrepreneurs. The laboratory is located at Oslo Science Park amid Norwegian institutions like University of Oslo, Oslo University Hospital, SINTEF, and a range of life science companies. ShareLab is non-profit and will reinvest profits in cutting edge laboratories and industrial knowhow to help fuel life science.