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Seaweed Could Be The Answer For Skin And Environment SafeSuncare Products

Scientists are investigating if Aotearoa New Zealand’s seaweed and algae can be used in sun care products that are healthy for our skin and the environment.

The scientists are looking at how some seaweed and algae have compounds that can protect skin from UV damage.

Mike Packer and Tom Wheeler are co-leaders of this Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge project.

“Many sun care products have damaging human health side-effects. Also, many are being banned due to their environmental impact on corals and other marine life. We need better products that don’t harm us or the environment. We think seaweed and algae could help solve this problem," says Mike Packer.

“The first part of our research is a study of seaweed species on marine farms to identify endemic (only found in Aotearoa) species that might contain compounds for use in sun care products and can also be easily farmed. Some seaweed and algae species have bioactive compounds that can protect skin from UV damage. Then we will look at developing a way to identify and measure suitable compounds.

“We are interested in the compounds’ potential to prevent and treat sunburn in new ways, not just simply blocking damaging UV light. This includes potentially interacting with the processes underlying the sunburn process – to stop the damaging parts of the
sunburn process.”

Excitingly, project members are drawing on both mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and western science to identify which species are best to develop for sun defence. They’ve partnered with Wakatū Incorporation and SRW Laboratories to do this.

“SRW Laboratories is excited to be collaborating with Wakatū Incorporation and Cawthron on this project. The project will deliver new science and offer more options for consumers looking for advanced skin care protection from UV exposure. It will also open up future export opportunities," says Greg Macpherson, Founder of SRW Laboratories.

Building a blue economy

By investing in innovation in the seaweed sector, Aotearoa has fresh opportunities to build back better from the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy. The seaweed sector can also provide employment for people transitioning out of traditional marine economy sectors, such as fishing.

“A major aim of the project is to develop tools for use in future research to help the developing seaweed and algae industry in Aotearoa, as well as new products with better outcomes," explains Mike Packer.

For New Zealanders to be able to use marine resources in the long term, the marine environment needs to be healthy. Aotearoa’s fledgling seaweed sector could play a key role in transitioning to a ‘blue economy’, where marine activities and businesses contribute positively to social, cultural and ecological well-being, as well as generating economic value.

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