UK scientists develop a planet-friendly sun cream made from seaweed

[UK] A new kind of sunscreen made from seaweed could be available within two years that is at least as effective as existing lotions, as well as being environmentally-friendly and good for your skin, scientists claim. In a series of experiments hailed as a “potential breakthrough” researchers have identified a chemical in seaweed that absorbs harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun and turned it into a promising sunscreen prototype. Apart from blocking UV rays, the chemical – known as palythine – contains naturally-occurring antioxidants which reduce wrinkles and acne, help repair scars and previous sun damage and firm up the skin. And it doesn’t pose a risk to the environment.

‘More effective’ than other sunscreens

Although some sun creams contain added antioxidants or claim to be environmentally friendly, the experiments suggest a new seaweed-based sunscreen would be much more effective in both areas, researchers say. “This is a potential game change and I’m pretty excited about this,” said Professor Antony Young, of King’s College London. “Our data suggest that these compounds may act as well, if not better than existing products and that they will tolerate incredibly high doses of sunlight,” he added.

His team successfully tested a prototype sunscreen on human skin cells in a lab and showed it to be effective even at low concentrations. Having demonstrated that it works ‘in vitro’ they are now preparing to test it on humans. “This is very exciting research – and very promising,” said Professor Marcus Cooke, of Florida International University, who was not involved in the study. “The authors show, convincingly, that a naturally occurring chemical found in marine organisms provides considerable photoprotection against a variety of sun-induced dangers, including DNA damage,” he added.

Millions of years of evolution All species, from “bacteria to elephants” have evolved ways of dealing with sunlight over millions of years – especially plants which can’t move to avoid the sun, said Prof Young. Many synthetic sunscreens contain harmful chemicals such as BP-3, which causes coral reefs to bleach and zinc oxide, which stunts the growth of phytoplankton, at the base of the marine food chain. More than 14,000 tons of sunscreen are released into the sea a year by swimmers and through household sinks and showers because waste water treatment plants miss a lot of them.

Prof Young said he was hopeful a seaweed sunscreen could be on the market within two to three years – although he cautioned that there were several obstacles along the way.


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