A Moment of Science

Sunscreen from Soybeans

Two Department of Agriculture chemists have come up with a sunscreen made out of soy and oat brain. Learn about the new sunblock on this Moment of Science.

If they’ve told you once, they’ve told you a thousand times: wear sunscreen. It’s one of the simplest and smartest things you can do to protect your health. And while we’re at it, eat soy. It’s a yummy alternative to meat and dairy. But why stop there? Now you can use soy as a sunscreen.

You heard right. Two Department of Agriculture chemists have come up with a sunscreen made out of soy. Well, not just soy: there’s some oat bran in there as well.

Here’s what happened. Joe Lazlo and Dave Compton of the USDA were working on coming up with a sunscreen that is also biodegradable and leaves no dangerous waste–safe with a capital “S.” Ferulic acid seemed to be the ticket. Ferulic acid comes from oat bran, and at the molecular level is a lot like the chemical used in commercial sunscreens. Only trouble was, it washes off in water. Nobody’s going to buy that.

What to do? Link it to soybean oil. With a little ingenuity you can make a chemical bond between the two substances in the lab. Soy oil resists water, and holds down the Ferulic acid.

Bingo: they had a product they call SoyScreen, which has been shown to block UV light of between three hundred twenty and three hundred sixty nanometers wavelength, which is just where this form of energy harms your skin, gives you wrinkles, and causes cancer. The FDA has to approve it first, but assuming they do, be prepared in a few years not just to be eating oat bran and drinking soy, but slathering them on your healthy physique as well.

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