New partnership set to examine how algae could be key to safer sunscreens

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By Milthon Lujan

A Swansea University project exploring how to use algae to create the next generation of sunscreens has now teamed up with an award-winning skincare firm to help develop the idea.

ALG-SUN, led by the Biosciences Department, has been awarded funding from the Algae-UK (Proof of Concept) Scheme to undertake research with both academic and industrial partners.

The Swansea team will now be working on the project with the Natural Products Factory which owns award-winning organic and vegan skincare brand Nourish London along with health scientists from Swansea University Medical School and University spin-off company Membranology.

Carole Llewellyn, Professor in Applied Aquatic Bioscience, said: “It is great that Algae-UK is funding this proof of concept research to enable us to work together with Natural Products Factory to better understand how we can take these promising natural products to market.”

Professor Llewellyn said evidence is emerging that products that contain sunscreen can damage the ecosystem when they are washed off skin. As a result, synthetic organic sunscreens are now banned in some areas of the world.

Also some sunscreen compounds can be harmful to health by disrupting hormone signalling linked to an increase cancer risk.

The team is seeking to develop new sunscreen products that do not damage the natural environment and are proven to be safe to use on the skin.

Professor Llewellyn believes microalgae could hold the key. Microalgae protect themselves from damaging solar ultraviolet radiation with a group of sunscreen compounds called mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs). However, there is a major challenge in obtaining MAAs in sufficient quantity and purity to confirm their effectiveness on the skin and to make algal sunscreens commercially viable.

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This project will see the partners working together to try to overcome these commercial barriers.

Dr Pauline Hili, founder of Natural Products Factory and renowned expert in organic skincare, first became interested after reading about Professor Llewellyn’s work with algae.

She said: “For a long time I had been wanting to explore more natural sunscreens and what possibilities might exist in the natural world. It struck me that surely we could find some way to make an improvement in this area.

“After speaking to Professor Llewellyn it became clear to me that an industry and academic collaboration would be a great way forward.”

She said sunscreens were among her customers’ most requested items.

“Through this work we could provide a real game changer for the consumer who is concerned about the environmental impact of their products. It is at a very early stage but it is very exciting to be generating research that has so many possibilities.”

Source: Swansea University

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