Researchers have found a way to create compounds to protect skin from the sun with inedible plant waste.

By Kelly Vaughan
August 16, 2019
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Sun safety has never looked better. Scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg have been testing new environmentally safe ingredients for sunscreen, including cashew shells. Using a technique called xylochemistry, scientists were able to produce compounds from non-edible plant waste such as cashew shells that offer UV protection. Cashew shell nut liquid showed significant levels of UVA and UVB absorption, an exciting step towards creating sunscreen that is both safe for our skin and the environment.

Cashew shells are shown to not only be safe and effective for the skin, but they're also a completely biodegradable and organic product. "Cashew nut shells are a waste product in the cashew-farming community, especially in Tanzania, so finding a useful, sustainable way to use these waste products can lead to completely new, environmentally friendly ways of doing things," the author of the paper, Charles de Koning, Ph.D, said in a press release. de Koning is part of a team of "green chemists" working to find compound solutions from other non-edible plant waste.

Related: Three Terms to Know When Decoding Your Sunscreen Label

In February 2019, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration revealed new safety regulations for most sunscreen products after only two of sixteen common active ingredients—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—were generally recognized as safe and effective. According to the FDA, sunscreen formulas haven't changed in decades, despite new information about the effects of sun exposure and sunscreen usage.

"Broad spectrum sunscreens with SPF values of at least 15 are critical to the arsenal of tools for preventing skin cancer and protecting the skin from damage caused by the sun's rays…Sunscreen usage has changed, with more people using these products more frequently and in larger amounts," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D.

Currently, many ingredients that were once considered to be effective UV filters, such as oxybenzone, are now shown to have a negative effect on aquatic ecosystems.

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