Lignin from plants boosts the effectiveness of sunscreen

June 08, 2016

Warm weather means beach vacations and pool-dipping for many of us. It also signals a season of slathering on sunscreen to avoid getting burned. Someday, those products could be enhanced with lignin, a natural material in plants and a major waste product of the paper industry. Scientists report their findings on what kind of lignin works well for this purpose in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

Most sunscreen products on the market today contain synthetic compounds that help prevent ultraviolet rays from damaging skin. But consumers are searching for better product performance that comes from natural sources to protect themselves from sun damage. As a step toward meeting this demand, scientists have added compounds from a variety of sources, including green coffee, soy and papaya to sunscreens. Shiping Zhu, Xueqing Qiu and colleagues wanted to test different kinds of lignin for their potential as an enhancer.

The researchers showed that out of five types of lignin tested, organosolv lignin improved the sun protection factor (SPF) of sunblock the most. Sunscreen containing just one percent of this compound had double the lotion's original SPF -- it went from 15 to 30. A lotion with 10 percent organosolv lignin increased SPF even further, from 15 to almost 92, but excessive amounts of hydrophilic lignin such as lignosulfonate caused the product to start separating. More work is needed, but the results represent a promising first step toward the development of lignin-containing sunscreen, say the researchers.
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The authors acknowledge funding from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, China Postdoctoral Science Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With nearly 157,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

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