Waste from paper-making could create a stronger sunscreen

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Sunscreen’s UV-blocking power could get a major boost from the addition of an all-natural waste product from the pulp and paper industry.

Chemical engineer Shiping Zhu and colleagues have found that lignin – a material found in the support tissues of vascular plants – can help sunscreen prevent ultraviolet rays from damaging the skin.

The team found that sunscreen containing just one per cent of organosolv lignin had double the lotion’s original sun protection factor, or SPF – in this case, it increased from 15 to 30.

Sunscreen containing 10 per cent of the compound increased SPF even further (from 15 to nearly 92), but if the particular type of lignin is “hydrophilic”, it will cause the product to separate.

Lignin is found in the pulp used for newsprint, and is responsible for the yellowing of old newspapers.

The material needs to be removed from pulp to make high quality, bleached white paper.

The researchers say their work could go a long way in meeting the needs of those looking for natural sunscreen enhancers, though further study is needed to address issues such as product separation.

Funding for the study came from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation.

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