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August 2, 2015

Sweden

Sunscreen Made from Chitin

   

 

A material made from chemicals in algae, fish mucus and shrimp shells may soon be an option for those looking for an all-natural sunscreen.

 

Some species of algae, bacteria and fish that spend a lot of time in the sun have evolved sun shields that absorb the DNA-damaging UV rays in sunlight.  These chemicals, known as “mycosporine-like” amino acids, have now been turned into a material that can be applied like a sunscreen to skin, as well as objects such as outdoor furniture that are at risk of UV damage.

 

Besides potentially being a more effective UV-absorber than conventional sunscreens, this natural alternative is biodegradable and some of its ingredients could be scavenged from food waste.

 

Vincent Bulone (email bulone@kth.se) from AlbaNova University Center in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues from the University of the Basque Country in Leioa, Spain, reacted the amino acids with a chemical called chitosan, found in the shells of shrimp and other crustaceans.  Unlike the amino acids, chitosan is a soluble polymer that can easily be applied to skin and has been investigated as a treatment of acne and for its wound healing properties.

 

The chitosan acted as a chemical base onto which the amino acids were attached.  The resulting substance was just as effective as the original amino acids at absorbing UV light.  Bulone says they attached only 1/30th of the amino acids they could have, and already the material absorbed as much UV from both the UVA and UVB spectrums as some commercial sunscreens.

 

In further testing, the team showed it maintained its UV absorption after 12 hours at temperatures as high as 80°C, suggesting it could be useful as a coating for things like outdoor furniture that are consistently exposed to high temperatures.

 

Preliminary work on mouse skin cells suggests the fishy sunscreen is non-toxic, but more work will be required before it’s ready for human trials.  One thing that won’t be a problem is the smell.  Bulone assured New Scientist that application wouldn’t leave you smelling like a seafood platter.  “Once you have purified the molecules, they don’t smell at all, I promise,” he said.

 

Source: New Scientist.  Mix Fish Secretions with Shrimp Shells to Make Super Sunscreen.  Image: Hanis/Getty.  July 31, 2015.

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