It's one of the dilemmas of vacationing in a tropical seaside location – you want protection from the sun, yet you're told that most sunscreens are harmful to corals and the marine environment. Well, scientists from King's College London may be onto a solution. They've discovered that an eco-friendly compound found naturally in seaweed could keep us from getting burned.

Mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) occur not only in seaweed, but also in other organisms that make their home in sunlight-rich shallow-water environments. The researchers extracted an MAA known as palythine from seaweed, then performed lab tests to see how well it protected human skin cells from ultraviolet radiation.

They found that it was quite effective at doing so, even in very low concentrations. Additionally, it may even be better for the skin than traditional sunscreen.

"MAAs, in addition to their environmental benefits, appear to be multifunctional photoprotective compounds," says Dr. Karl Lawrence, lead author of a paper on the research. "They work through the direct absorption of UVR [ultraviolet radiation] photons, much like the synthetic filters. They also act as potent antioxidants, which is an important property as exposure to solar radiation induces high levels of oxidative stress, and this is something not seen in synthetic filters."

Skincare company Aethic has been granted a license to utilize the technology. That said, additional research will be required to see if palythine exhibits the same skin-protecting qualities outside of the lab.

The team's findings are described in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Source: King's College London