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DNA-based sunscreen sounds a bit odd, but it could totally save your skin

It goes without saying that sunscreen is pretty darn crucial in defending your skin against damaging, cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) light. But commercial sunscreen could certainly bear improvement — like, say, if you only had to apply it once, and subsequent exposure to UV light only made it stronger!

While that feature is not yet available, new research from scientists at Binghamton University, State University of New York (SUNY) suggests that it one day could be. In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, Binghamton researchers developed a transparent crystalline DNA film which becomes more effective at blocking UV light over time.

This ultra-thin film was formed from a solution of liquid DNA (derived from salmon sperm, although it’s probably best not to think about that when you’re lying on the beach during your vacation), which was then spread on a sheet of glass and allowed to dry. In trials, the DNA film blocked 90 percent of UVB light (responsible for tanning and sunburn) and 20 percent of UVA light (which is theorized to be responsible for premature aging). Both of these are linked with skin cancer, which makes this a potentially invaluable discovery. Most impressive of all was the fact that the film got more effective as it was exposed to more UV light, although the team isn’t yet sure whether this is a block of reflecting or absorbing light.

In addition to sunscreen, the film could also be used to help reduce the risk of dehydration, since it was found to reduce evaporation in areas on which it had been coated. The researchers additionally theorize that it might be useful for accelerating wound healing.

Okay, so rubbing yourself all over with DNA sounds all kinds of wrong, but if it means that you don’t have to reapply your sunscreen every couple hours, it would totally be worth it.

“In terms of next steps, we are currently working hard to better understand how UV light alters the structure of the DNA films,” senior study investigator Guy German, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Binghamton University, told Digital Trends. “We are also investigating methods to improve film UV attenuation.”

The eventual goal, German said, is to develop a product that can be made commercially available to consumers. Hey, if there’s some way this work could be combined with other innovative creations like Yale University’s sunblock that binds to the skin or even this nifty sunscreen-dispensing wearable, they could really be onto a winner!

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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