As research claims, exposure to much sunlight causes more than 90% of skin cancer cases. This is the most common type of cancer worldwide, constituting roughly 40% of all cancer occurrences. Despite the availability of sunscreens, it has become even more prevalent over the last decades. Caucasians are a risk group to whom sunscreens are very important.
Sunscreens are a convenient way of protecting the skin against ultraviolet radiation, but excessive use of them may also prevent vitamin D synthesis that happens as a result of sunlight exposure. There are also concerns about the possibility of nanoparticles, present in many contemporary sunscreens, affecting skin cells. Another disadvantage of sunscreens is the negative impact on the marine environment: some sunscreens can react with UV light in water and damage phytoplankton; additionally, some sunscreens also contain chemicals and nanoparticles known to destroy corals, and some can be ingested by marine animals with yet unknown consequences.
What if sunscreens were made of DNA?
The radical concept comes from Binghamton University, New York. While this may sound counterintuitive, given that UV light damages DNA, the principle behind the mechanism of action is plausible. It is similar to the anti-corrosive mechanism of stainless steel: a very thin outer layer of chromium readily oxidizes upon exposure to oxygen. The resulting layer from this reaction protects the steel underneath from corrosive elements. Therefore, the steel itself does not corrode.
Presumably, the DNA film developed by the American scientists should work similarly: in the process of being damaged by UV light, it protects the skin underneath. Lab experiments also showed that the 'DNA sunscreen' performs better the longer it is exposed to UV light.
Scientists believe that a DNA coating could help keep the skin hydrated because the material is capable of retaining water. This would slow down the rate of water loss to evaporation.
This innovation in sunscreen technology would have no environmental impact and no health risks related to potentially harmful nanoparticles. Scientists speculate that the excellent properties of this revolutionary sunscreen could also make it useful in wound healing applications. The ability to preserve moisture, protect from UV light and the fact that it is see-through means that 'DNA bandages' could also become feasible in the near future.
Studying the possibilities
The American researchers in fact plan to put the wound dressing usefulness of their new biomaterial to the test. According to them, their creation could promote faster wound healing in “extreme environments.” This innovative has, thus, versatile applicability to human skin.
Sunscreen technology has been actively researched to find better alternatives to current solutions. Besides the health and environmental concerns, this is also driven by the observation that many people apply less sunscreen than they should in order to effectively block UV radiation.
In addition to this DNA film, there are other innovations being developed based on bioadhesive nanoparticles, which would also be safer than current alternatives.