Your next sunscreen...courtesy of fish slime?

Researchers have figured out a way to harness the power of the oceans to create a sunscreen that could be more friendly to the reefs that grow there. And humans too.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

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A molecule from the same slimy substance that protects this fish from the sun's harmful rays could soon do the same for you. Source: NOAA

They're eventually going to have to work on their PR campaign, but a team of researchers has just figured out a way to make sunscreen from a substance found in algae and the mucus of reef fish, which helps protect the ocean-dwelling life forms from the sun's harmful rays.

Reporting in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, the team described how they combined molecules of the slimy substance -- amino-acid derivatives called mycosporines -- with chitosan, a substance from crustacean shells. The mycosporines have the ability to absorb both ultraviolet A and B radiation, so they work well as a sunscreen.

But why would we want to slather a fish-slime-derived sunscreen on our bodies instead of what we use now?

"(Current sunscreens) are not always friendly to the environment because some of them are chemical organic compounds produced through unfriendly chemical approaches," researcher Vincent Bulone told Crave. "They are also not always fully efficient for protection against both UV-A and UV-B or sufficiently stable."

Bulone also said that some of the substances in current sunscreens could have detrimental effects on human health, although he notes that research supporting that has yet to be conducted.

What is known is that researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last year conducted a study that showed that many commercially made sunscreens contain a substance that causes coral reefs to bleach, an increase in mutations, and the rapid death of young corals. Think about all of the tourists who slather the stuff on before their snorkeling trips and the magnitude of the issue becomes clear. So a sunscreen made from substances that come directly out of the oceans could potentially be much more reef-friendly.

In addition to creating sunscreen out of the mycosporines, the researchers also feel that their substance would work well applied to fabrics and other materials to help fight the damaging effects of the sun. Bulone said the researchers now need to approach industrial partners to investigate the possibility of bringing their discovery to market.