Alternative Sunscreen Could Help Corals And Skin Health at the Beach

New study suggests a repurposed antioxidant offers enhanced anti-aging and coral-friendly summer sun protection.

Coral-friendly sunscreen at the beach

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A new study celebrates the well-rounded protection potential of an exciting new sunscreen ingredient. This sunscreen constituent could offer more protection from the sun than current options, with added anti-aging properties, and the bonus of being coral-safe too!

The key ingredient, Methylthioninium Chloride, aka Methylene Blue, a salt, actually isn’t new. It’s a century-old medicine and dye that is FDA-approved and on the WHO list of safe and essential medicines. And it has now been repurposed by a research team at the University of Maryland.

The scientists, reporting the findings of their groundbreaking study in Nature Scientific Reports, say that their tests show that this medicine, usually used to treat a blood disorder, absorbs the full spectrum of the sun’s harmful rays.

They also maintain that it has the ability to repair DNA damage caused by UVA-triggered oxidative stress and photo-aging: “Firstly, as a potent antioxidant, the MB-based sunscreen may protect skin from ROS [skin-damaging reactive chemical molecules leading to wrinkles and reduced skin elasticity] and photoaging caused by UVA rays, which is lacking in current sunscreen products.” The researchers found that combined with vitamin C, it yielded measurable anti-aging effects, especially in older skin.

"Our work suggests that Methylene Blue is an effective UVB blocker with a number of highly desired characteristics as a promising ingredient to be included in sunscreens," study author, Kan Cao, a professor of cellular biology and molecular genetics at the University of Maryland, explained in a news release.

"It shows a broad spectrum absorption of both UVA and UVB rays, promotes DNA damage repair, combats reactive oxygen species, ROS, induced by UVA, and most importantly, poses no harm to coral reefs," said Cao, founder of Mblue Labs and Bluelene Skincare, which has created skin products using methylene blue.

The promise of a sunscreen based on a coral-friendly ingredient is welcome news for the environment. The abstract of the new study discusses how the team compared Methylene Blue to Oxybenzone, the most commonly used active chemical ingredient in sunscreens today. But it has lately been found to be hazardous to aquatic ecosystems, particularly coral reefs, as well as fish embryos.

This is a threat that is being taken very seriously. The Hindustan Times reports that several states and countries have now banned the use of Oxybenzone and its derivatives to stop the devastating effects on the world's marine ecosystem. These include Florida, California, the US Virgin Islands, Australia, Mexico Bonaire, Palau, and Aruba, all joining the ever-growing list, the researchers report.

As part of their study, the research team exposed the same amounts of Methylene Blue or Oxybenzone in Xenia umbellate, a soft coral species, in isolated tanks. They monitored the growth of the coral reefs and responses to these chemicals. They reported drastic coral bleaching and death in Oxybenzone-treated Xenia corals in their experiments in less than a week, but found that seawater containing Methylene Blue does not adversely impact coral health even at a relatively high concentration.

Following their research outcomes, the team have started applying for a patent, and are creating sunscreen prototypes with Methylene Blue. This may prove a promising solution for promoting human and environmental wellbeing in the near future.

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