Long exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun results in a blistering sunburn that can last for an extended period of time depending upon the length of exposure. Sunscreen blocks UV light as well as protects the skin from skin cancer.
However, with most sunscreens, as soon as it is applied, it begins to break down and its strength to protect the skin begins to waver after a few hours.
Now, researchers at Binghamton University have developed a new coating made out of DNA that actually gets better at protecting skin from UV light the more a person is exposed to the sun. At the same time, the coating keeps skin hydrated.
"Ultraviolet (UV) light can actually damage DNA, and that's not good for the skin," says Guy German, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Binghamton University. "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 team developed thin and optically transparent crystalline DNA films and irradiated them with UV light. They discovered the more they exposed the film to UV light, the better the film got at absorbing it. Meaning, if translated to a topical cream or sunscreen, the longer a person is at the beach or outdoors, the better it gets at being a sunscreen, researchers say.
As a bonus, researchers found the DNA coating to be hygroscopic, meaning it can store and hold water much more than uncoated skin. When applied to human skin, the coating is capable of slowing water evaporation and keeping the skin hydrated for extended periods of time.
The next steps involve testing the material to see if it might be good as a wound covering for hostile environments where you could see the wound healing without removing the dressing or protecting the wound from the sun or even keeping the wound moist to promote faster healing rates.
"Not only do we think this might have applications for sunscreen and moisturizers directly, but if it's optically transparent and prevents tissue damage from the sun and it's good at keeping the skin hydrated, we think this might be potentially exploitable as a wound covering for extreme environments," German says.
The full research can be found in the journal Scientific Reports.