Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Sunscreen from Corals

By Stephen Luntz

Chemicals that corals use to protect themselves from ultraviolet radiation have been synthesised and altered to produce a potential sunscreen.

The sunscreens are produced by symbiotic microalgae that are absorbed by shallow corals to fend off UVB radiation. “There is not one compound here,” says Dr Mark York of CSIRO Materials Science and Manufacturing. “However, most of them work against UVB.”

The sunscreens were initially identified by researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, who received commercial support from skincare company Larissa Bright Australia. This work was then passed to CSIRO for the production of a sunscreen suitable for human use.

“The filters are clear in colour, virtually odourless and very stable, which makes them easy to be incorporated into any emulsion,” York says.

While York says the work that was done to make this happen is commercial-in-confidence, he explains that “we adapted what the coral produces to extend the protection to UVA. Typical commercial sunscreens use four to five different chemicals to provide protection, so one of the advantages is having one that can cover the full range of wavelengths.”

While existing sunscreens are effective, concerns have been expressed about putting too many chemicals on the skin, particularly in combination.

Larissa Bright Australia is now seeking commercial partners for the mass production of the synthesised molecules.