4 bottles of different kinds of sunscreen products

Cyanobacteria: a Key Ingredient to More Natural Cosmetics?

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By Maddie Santiago

The average drugstore or makeup counter is typically packed products made with many synthetic chemicals. Our body absorbs all of the ingredients of products we put onto our skin, whether this is makeup, lotion, lip balm, or skincare. Being mindful of ingredients can be a tough job, since it’s the standard to use synthetic substances in cosmetics. However, new research suggests that a natural compound may be breakthrough ingredient can be used in many cosmetic products that have moisturizing and sun screening properties.

Researched published in the European Journal of Phycology suggests that moisturizers and sunscreens made from biologically derived ingredients are safer than the current synthetic norm. According to Peyman Derikvand of the University of Isfahan in Iran, and his colleagues from Swansea and London, the use of synthetic ingredients on the skin can lead to side effects like contact sensitivity, allergies, and estrogen hormone mimicking. These potentially harmful ingredients can also become an environmental concern once the product wears off into the environment or sunscreen comes off in the water in a lake or ocean.

A natural alternative to these synthetic chemicals are a group of organisms called cyanobacteria. Some of the cyanobacteria species live in extremely dry habitats, this causes them to naturally produce compounds that give them the ability to withstand both high UV radiation and extreme dehydration. The use of cyanobacteria in sunscreen products is a breakthrough for those that are skeptical about the use of SPF due to skin sensitivity. Once there is no more skin irritation associated with SPF products there is no excuse for people not to be wearing sunscreen, which can help them stay clear of skin cancers, UV damage, and the major signs of aging.

“Cyanobacteria, tiny photosynthetic microbes, offer new potential. One suite of compounds are synthesized to protect against damaging ultraviolet and intense sunlight. These compounds, as discussed in this review, offer many advantages over current synthetically derived sunscreens,” –Carole Llewellyn, Associate Professor in Applied Aquatic Bioscience.

Womans hand with cream about to be rubbed in on the top of her palmThe compounds that the cyanobacteria produce include mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) that provide strong protection from longwave UV radiation and scytonemin that protects from shortwave UV radiation. These natural photoprotectants could be beneficial alternatives to synthetic UV filters found in many face and body sunscreens and makeup products containing SPF. Also, when it comes to the moisturizing elements in skincare and cosmetic products, extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) derived naturally from cyanobacteria, appear to be much more effective at retaining moisture than EPS derived from synthetic substances. The bulk of the cosmetic products on the market today use synthetic moisture preserving ingredients like urea, glycerin, and propylene glycol.

Along with appealing to segments of customers with the growing desire for more natural products, the use of biological compounds has even more benefits for the cosmetics industry. Cyanobacteria can self-renew and reproduce, which ensures a sustainable supply. Photosynthetic organisms are especially sustainable since they require only light energy, carbon dioxide, and basic nutrients. Cyanobacteria have higher photosynthetic growth rates than more complex plants, simple nutritional requirements, and the ability to grow under closed cultivation systems. However, economic and sustainable production of these biological-compounds can be a challenge for large cosmetic companies that require large scale production of a mass supply.

According to Llewellyn, there is on-going research into cultivation of these organisms to improve the economics and large-scale production of cyanobacteria. Future technical improvements along with increased market demand should result in increased use of cyanobacterial organisms as more mainstream and key ingredients in the cosmetics industry. Once there are less synthetic chemicals used in cosmetic products, this will promote healthier skin and less toxicity in the body for everyone who uses them.

 

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