Every summer new sunscreens come out promising to be better and longer-lasting than ever before.
But a new study found that DNA could be a key ingredient in keeping sunscreen active long after it’s applied.
It might even strengthen its protective properties as it wears.
Researchers from Binghamton University, State University of New York, were able to use DNA to create a special coating that protects against UV light and grows stronger the longer it is exposed.
Their findings were today in Scientific Reports.
An everlasting sunscreen?
Guy German, PhD, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Binghamton University, said they were interested in seeing how a layer of DNA would react to UV light.
“This all started with a conversation I had with [study co-author] Mark Lyles,” German told Healthline. “At the time, I was working with an undergraduate student on how to use DNA for cosmetic applications. I think we began studying the DNA films, and the impact of UV light on them, nearly immediately.”
German and his co-authors pointed out that UV light is known to be harmful to DNA, and is one of the most common natural carcinogens.
“Ultraviolet (UV) light can actually damage DNA, and that’s not good for the skin,” German said in a statement. “We thought, let’s flip it. What happens instead if we actually used DNA as a sacrificial layer? So instead of damaging DNA within the skin, we damage a layer on top of the skin.”
For years, researchers have known that DNA can be changed due to heat, radiation, pH levels, or other factors. Researchers can change the molecules’ ability to absorb UV light in a process called hyperchromicity.
The researchers then created the DNA films, which are made up of closely packed “submicron sized” crystals. They then applied this film to test areas and ran it under UV light to see if it absorbed the light and provided protection.
They found that the films reduced the transmittance of incident UVC and UVB light by up to 90 percent, and of UVA transmittance by up to 20 percent.
German pointed out that as the material is exposed to UV light it might increase protection against UVA light.
They also found that the materials were hygroscopic, meaning they were able to hold and store water. That, in turn, helped keep skin hydrated.
In addition to a possible use as a sun protection, German now wants to see if this material could be used as wound coverings.
In this case, an open wound could be monitored via the transparent film without removing the dressing.
“Not only do we think this might have applications for sunscreen and moisturizers directly, but if it’s optically transparent and prevents tissue damage from the sun and it's good at keeping the skin hydrated, we think this might be potentially exploitable as a wound covering for extreme environments,” he said.
Still a long way to go
But don’t hold your breath for this to show up on your drugstore shelves soon.
The researchers are in the early stages of study and haven’t even tested the substance on anything other than tiny patches of skin in a lab.
Dr. Emily Newsom, a dermatologist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, said the study was interesting and could be beneficial if it works.
“The problem with the sunscreens now is you have to reapply every two hours and it has to be much thicker,” she said. “Having any kind of new option to protect from UV would be great.”
However, Newsom said much more research needs to be done to understand if this material could feasibly be used as a sunscreen, and withstand the heat, water, and sweat of a real person going to the beach.
“It would need to be tested in person and on sun damaged skin vs. non-sun damaged skin,” she said. “You want to test it on a variety of skin tones.”
While you’re waiting for the sunscreen of the future, Newsom had a few recommendations for picking the right sunscreen.
“I always recommend 30 SPF, you want broad spectrum,” she said, explaining SPF just protects against UVB rays. “We used to think only UVB is harmful, and UVA is also harmful and it penetrates window glass.”
She said she actually sees more people with sunscreen on their left side due to sun exposure while driving.
Newsom said to get checked “If you have had a lot of sun or if you get freckles or have a lot of moles or if there’s anything you are concerned about,” she said. “Early prevention is key.”