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.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe Today

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...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    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...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

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

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

Wildlife

Narwhals show a complex response to interaction with humans and…

Polar

The biodiversity of the Antarctic seafloor has been modelled for…

Oceans

With growing fears over the negative impacts of excessive sunscreen…

Climate

Harmful ozone levels found at the Earth’s surface, or troposphere,…

Climate

Those concerned with external asylum applications to the EU might…

Energy

Cryptocurrencies might be setting the world’s digital economy on fire,…

Polar

A multilateral moratorium prevents Arctic Ocean fishing for 16 years,…

Wildlife

A global campaign is underway to turn a huge area…

Geophoto

From the iconic narrowboats meandering along picturesque British landscapes, to…

Wildlife

Warm and humid conditions are found to be the trigger…

Wildlife

Overfishing and climate change are edging seabirds such as the…

Oceans

East African countries are sharing shipping data in order to…

Wildlife

How many elephants can you see? How many orang-utans are…

Climate

The ocean floor is being deformed under the weight of…

Climate

Progress on halting warming has not been great throughout 2017.…

Oceans

Coral bleaching is widespread around the globe and as it…

Climate

Wales is the second best recycler in the world

Climate

A series of worrying reports by the Global Carbon Project…

Wildlife

While it was the impact on civilian populations that generated…