Growing algae to harvest nature's own sunscreen could replace synthetic varieties, sometimes blamed for adverse effects on human skin. Matthew Stock reports.
Slapping on the sunscreen is essential to help avoid the potentially life-threatening effect of the sun's rays. But algae could offer an abundant natural alternative that's just as effective, say British researchers. Specifically, the UV-blocking properties of microalgae - invisible to the naked eye. SOUNDBITE (English) DR CAROLE LLEWELLYN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF APPLIED AQUATIC BIOSCIENCE AT SWANSEA UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "These tiny, microscopic algae that are living in the sea protect themselves against the harsh sun rays and they do this by producing a suite of compounds that have very high absorption properties. So they actually screen out the harsh conditions of the sun, the ultra-violet rays." The research, published in the European Journal of Phycology, compared synthetic sunscreens with natural ones. They say an algae sunscreen could offer numerous benefits over common synthetic varieties... sometimes blamed for causing skin irritation, disrupting the body's hormone cycle and even damaging the environment and entering the food chain. In the lab, algae is exposed to ultra-violet light and then compared to control groups grown under just white light. SOUNDBITE (English) DR CAROLE LLEWELLYN, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF APPLIED AQUATIC BIOSCIENCE AT SWANSEA UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "What we notice is that the algae that are grown under ultra-violet light are able to make these UV protection compounds. So by growing the algae under UV we can actually increase the amount of the sunscreen compounds and then eventually we hope to get high enough concentrations to make it economically viable to actually incorporate into commercial sunscreen products." While the research is on-going, algae's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties could have a range of other uses, the team says. And its ability to cope with extreme conditions means it could be grown almost anywhere.