Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Screen saver: eco-friendly sun protection

Screen saver: eco-friendly sun protection
07 Feb
2018
With growing fears over the negative impacts of excessive sunscreen in marine environments, researchers are looking to nature for solutions

When slapping on factor 50 sunscreen to avoid the harmful impacts of UV exposure, environmental consequences might well be far from our mind. But there is a substantial (and growing) body of evidence showing the toxic impact the large number of synthetic UV filters commonly contained within off-the-shelf sunscreen can have on the marine environment once washed from our bodies.

The European Chemicals Agency has expressed concern about eight commonly-used sunscreen filters, including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, both toxic to marine phytoplankton upon exposure to low levels of UV light. The Environmental Effects Assessment Panel (EEAP), part of the United Nations Environment Programme, concurs with this position.

‘There are significant concerns that conventional sun protection products are having a negative impact on the environment,’ outlines Antony Young, a professor at St John’s Institute of Dermatology at King’s College London. ‘Our data shows that, with further research and development, marine-derived sunscreens may be a possible solution that could have a significant positive impact on the health of our marine habitats and wildlife, while still providing the essential sun protection that human skin requires to guard against damage that causes diseases such as skin cancer.’

Such ‘marine-derived’ sunscreens have been the centre of attention for a number of years, especially since the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation suggested that natural filters mimicking the way corals protect themselves from high UV levels could potentially be harnessed as a natural filter for human skin. New research from Young and PhD student Karl Lawrence at KCL suggests that the chemical ‘palythine’, a mycosporine-like amino acid (MAA) derived from the edible seaweed chondrus yendoi (pictured above), could play a central role in creating sunscreen that doesn’t harm the natural environment.

‘MAAs are found in almost all marine species that are exposed to UV radiation,’ explains Lawrence. ‘We specifically used palythine for three reasons. Firstly, it is one of the most abundant MAAs found in nature. Secondly, there were reports that it has some anti-oxidant activity. Finally, we had a fairly pure source of palythine from chondrus yendoi. This species produces high amounts of palythine and negligible levels of other MAAs – which made it easy to extract palythine alone.’

Lawrence feels the study demonstrated the potential for using palythine as a bio-compatible sunscreen, since they used ‘solar-simulated radiation... and used endpoints that are directly relevant to photoprotection in humans, including DNA damage that has a direct link to skin cancers and markers of oxidative stress and photoageing.’

This was published in the February 2018 edition of Geographical magazine.

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

Adventure Canada

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

It takes a lot more than the latest research data…

Wildlife

NGOs shine a light on the underreporting of wildlife crime…

Wildlife

Pioneering laser photography is being used by scientists on the…

Geophoto

Annual competition looks to celebrate island life in all its…

Oceans

Increasing interest in offshore aquaculture is dividing environmentalists

Energy

Well-meaning promises don’t always have positive outcomes. Marco Magrini finds…

Wildlife

The RSPB introduces a new hotline for reporting the unlawful…

Wildlife

With the death earlier this week of the world’s last…

Geophoto

The essence of street photography is its raw, unfiltered, unstaged…

Energy

For Marco Magrini, a tax on fossil fuels would be…

Wildlife

Half of animal species in world’s most biodiverse areas could…

Wildlife

Four-year project to reestablish safe breeding grounds for seabirds on…

Wildlife

First global atlas of soil bacteria reveals a small minority…

Polar

Scientists discover how shrubs are dominating the Arctic tundra

Wildlife

War and conservation have a complicated relationship, with two studies…

Climate

Why is Europe so cold right now? Marco Magrini suggests…

Wildlife

Threatened Californian owls are suffering from digesting rat poison administered…

Oceans

With the majority of the ocean still remaining undiscovered, a…

Oceans

Belize bans offshore oil extraction to protect the second longest…

Geophoto

With their horns still much-prized by poachers, will the revered…