Public Release: 

UA-invented sunscreen protects skin without seeping in

New formula blocks UV radiation while preventing oxybenzone from penetrating skin

University of Arizona College of Engineering

The University of Arizona has licensed a new, non-penetrating sunscreen to MexiAloe Laboratorios, S.A. de C.V., a subsidiary of Novamex.

The novel formulation binds oxybenzone -- the active ingredient in most over-the-counter sunscreens -- in a way that keeps it from seeping into the skin.

Douglas Loy, a UA professor of chemistry and biochemistry and materials science and engineering, developed the formulation with UA graduate student Stephanie Tolbert.

Blocking the absorption of oxybenzone into skin would help resolve public concern over the use of the compound, which filters out ultraviolet light and is used in many commercial topical sunscreens. The American Association of Dermatology says oxybenzone is safe, but public concerns have been raised about its effects when absorbed by users.

Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the UA that commercializes inventions stemming from research, worked with Loy to protect the intellectual property and license the invention to MexiAloe Laboratorios, a major supplier of aloe verde to cosmetics firms in North America. The firm's parent company, Novamex, is one of the largest distributors of Mexican products in the United States.

According to Loy, the inspiration for the invention came from Tolbert.

"Stephanie wanted to improve cosmetics by introducing sunscreens that wouldn't pass through the skin," he said. "In addition to being nonhazardous, we made the sunscreens last longer so they wouldn't have to be reapplied as frequently."

Sunscreens take molecules that block UV light and encase them in microscopic capsules, which the industry calls "pearls." These pearls break down, and the chemicals they contain can become even more photosensitive -- and then leach into the skin.

So Loy and Tolbert posed the question: Why can't we take a natural product and minimize the issue of these bothersome chemicals with naturally occurring, nontoxic alternatives and achieve the same UV protection?

Leveraging the power of chemical bonds, the new formulation binds the pearls to the sunscreen's components so they do not break down.

In addition to the science behind the invention, two additional drivers contributed to the successful licensing of the technology. First, TLA's Asset Development Program provided funds to develop the invention beyond basic research. Also, TLA's Commercialization Partners, a group of experienced entrepreneurs and business people who volunteer their advice to help bring UA inventions to market, helped provide input and strategic direction.

"We worked with MexiAloe on defining the Asset Development project, which we designed to provide the company with more of the product for them to test and validate the findings," said Paul Eynott, TLA licensing manager for the College of Science. "The CEO wrote a letter supporting the project and contributed financially to the development, as well. TLA awarded the funds to Loy's lab, and the results tipped the scales in favor of a great exclusive license arrangement."

"Personal care consumers are connecting the dots between health, environmental sustainability and natural ingredients. This trend is shaping the future of the natural personal care category," said Luis Fernandez, CEO of Novamex. "With these licensed patents from UA, we are looking forward to providing innovative solutions for consumers that now more than ever are looking for natural and functional sunscreens."

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