A sunscreen You must meet at least four requirements to be optimal. The first is to protect from UVA and UVB radiation. The second, a sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or more if it is for the body. Or 50 if it’s facial sunscreen. The third requirement is that it does not contain toxic ingredients for our body. And finally it should be safe for coral reefs. The latter may sound weird. What does a sunscreen have to do with these living underwater structures? Well, the truth is that a lot, since some of the most common ingredients in their formulas are very harmful for them.
It is precisely the reason why some countries and states have banned the sale of products that include them. For example, it is the case of Australia, where the Coral reefs they have great relevance. However, some compounds, such as oxybenzone, are still found in 80% of sunscreens on the market.
It does so because it is really effective in absorbing harmful radiation from the sun so that these are not primed with the cells of our skin. That is why it is so important to find alternatives that are effective in protecting our health, but at the same time safeguarding coral reefs. And that is precisely what a team of scientists from the University of Maryland and the Mblue Labs company. In addition, as you can read in the study that they have just published in Nature Scientific Reports, they have done it with a substance well known as a drug with a pharmacological indication that has little to do with sunscreen.
Methylene blue for a perfect sun cream
The ingredient in question is Methylene blue. If we look for it in the vademecum, we can see that it is widely used to “treat methemoglobinemia induced by drugs and chemical substances in adults, children and adolescents ”.
This reaction occurs when levels of methemoglobin, a substance that occurs when the shape of hemoglobin is altered, preventing it from being able to bind to oxygen. It can cause symptoms such as weakness, shortness of breath, pale skin, low oxygen saturation and something very curious: blue coloring of the blood. In fact, in 2019 the case of a woman whose blood had become noticeably colored this tone was published after taking a drug for toothache based on benzocaine.
Methylene blue is used to treat a dangerous effect produced in the blood by some drugs
That girl was cured thanks to intravenous administration of methylene blue. But now we know that it can have another very interesting use as an ingredient in a sunscreen.
These scientists have not yet verified it in vivo, but in vitro, on Cell cultures. Specifically, skin cells from young and old donors. All of them were exposed first to methylene blue and then to both UVA and UVB radiation, to see if they suffered damage from it.
They saw that methylene blue absorbs the two radiations studied very efficiently. But the thing does not stop there, since it also contributes to repair possible DNA damage, something that other ingredients that we can find in a sunscreen do not do. Also, as if that weren’t enough, when combined with an antioxidant, such as vitamin C, the effects of cellular aging were diminished, especially in cells from older donors.
Photo by BATCH by Wisconsin Hemp Scientific on Unsplash
His second super power
It only remained to know if methylene blue would be respectful of coral reefs. For this reason, they exhibited copies of Xenia umbellate reared in tanks to the same amount that had been put on human cells. They also did it with oxybenzone, to be able to compare how both substances affected coral growth.
Those who received methylene blue had no effect. However, in less than a week the deaths of many of those who had been exposed to oxybenzone. In addition, a drastic whitening. This term refers to discoloration as a result of the loss of your symbiotic relationship with a photosynthetic microalgae, which helps them get a good part of the energy they need to live. Therefore, on a coral reef the color white is synonymous with weakness and death.
In short, although it would still be necessary to go further and test it directly in human volunteers, it seems that methylene blue may be the star ingredient for the perfect sun cream. Protects from UVA and UVB radiation, repairs cells, prevents cell aging and watches over coral reefs. Human beings save ourselves without harming other living beings in the attempt. Unfortunately this is not always the case, so this is something worth celebrating.