For long-lasting sun protection, slap on some DNA


Film of artificial DNA absorbs UVB rays to prevent skin damage from sunburn.


DNA could prove a valuable beach companion.
Laguna Design / Getty

A thin layer of machine-generated DNA spread on exposed skin not only functions as a sunscreen but actually becomes more effective the longer it is left on, new research has found.

Scientists from Binghamton University in Vestal, New York, have created a transparent, crystalline DNA film that becomes better at absorbing ultraviolet light over time.

When ultraviolet light strikes unprotected skin, a particular type of photon – known as UVB – disrupts thymine base pairs in DNA, which in turn affects enzyme activity and leads to sunburn.

Using artificial DNA to protect the real stuff is thus a potentially game-changing strategy.

“Ultraviolet light can actually damage DNA, and that's not good for the skin,” says lead researcher Guy German. "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.”

The strategy not only worked but did so better than anticipated.

Traditional sunscreens all become less efficient over time, and require reapplication every couple of hours. With the DNA film German and his team found the opposite was the case: the protective barrier became more robust as time passed.

“If you translate that, it means that if you use this as a topical cream or sunscreen, the longer you stay out on the beach the better it gets at being a sunscreen,” he notes.

The film also potentially lessened another hazard of sunbathing: dehydration. The researchers discovered it had marked hygroscopic qualities, meaning it reduced evaporation from coated areas.

German’s discovery has obvious potential within the cosmetics industry, but he and his team now plan to see if DNA films can be used to accelerate wound healing as well.

The research is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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Andrew Masterson is news editor of Cosmos.
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