MAY 08, 2018 9:20 AM PDT

Will Oilseed Be Your New Sunscreen?

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

Almost 10,000 people in the U.S. alone are diagnosed with skin cancer daily, and scientists from Oregon State University have found a new potential source of protection from solar radiation in the meadowfoam plant. Meadowfoam grows in the Pacific Northwest and is farmed as an oilseed crop. It contains glucosinolates, which have been shown to have several beneficial effects, including being antioxidant and antimicrobial, as well as having anti-cancer and skin-protectant properties. The OSU team found that derivatives from the oilseed’s glucosinolates relieved or prevented the skin damage caused by the sun’s UV rays.

collage of meadowfoam and woman in sun image, photo credits: OSU, public domain

Arup Indra, one of the authors of the corresponding study and an associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences and affiliate investigator at OSU's Linus Pauling Institute, said:

DNA damage is the precursor to photocarcinogenesis, and these derivatives reduce that damage, which means improved skin health and reduced cancer risk. The findings show a tremendous potential for utility in skin care products, besides just demonstrating the science on its own.

Testing Oilseed’s Skin-protecting Strengths

To test the derivatives, the researchers constructed 3-D replicas of human skin in culture plates. The scientists directed ultraviolet B radiation at the lab-made skin and then applied the two derivatives, called 3-methoxybenzylisothiocyanate and 3-methoxyphenylacetonitrile. Both are found in the seed meal leftover from oilseed cultivation.

They found that the derivatives could help sun-exposed skin in four ways: by inhibiting enzymes that break down collagen, an essential skin protein; reducing the number of precancerous cells; stopping cancer-causing mutations from forming; and preventing hyperplasia, a tissue or organ enlargement that can lead to cancer.

Applications of the Oilseed Derivatives

Indra said the experimenters’ choice and ability to not test on animals is notable and likely to be well-received by potential future skin-care and cosmetic customers. Also, using skin reconstructions is helpful because it allows them to add immune cells or pigment-producing cells to vary the studies as needed.

Because the chemicals tested protect collagen from damaging enzymes, they have potential anti-aging applications as well.

In addition to these two obvious issues that most people are at least somewhat aware of, there’s a lot more that can go wrong when it comes to you skin. Avoiding skin cancer is very important of course and anti-aging is something that a lot of people are concerned about but the way we take care of our skin can lead to many other problems too. You might think acne is exclusively a teenage thing, but it can seriously affect adults too and it’s often caused by skin products that are heavily laced with chemicals. As are other issues like chronic dryness and irritation. Switching to oilseed for sunscreen is a step in the right direction, but you should consider going natural with all of your skincare products.

"Most cosmetics just sort of patch things up, cover up the damage, but this actually protects the skin," said co-author and principal investigator at the Linus Pauling Institute Fred Stevens, who is also a professor of medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy.

Photoprotective Properties of Isothiocyanate and Nitrile Glucosinolate Derivatives from Meadowfoam (Limnanthes alba) against UVB Irradiation in Human Skin Equivalent was published in April 2018.

Also in the spring of 2018, Hawaii’s legislature passed a ban on certain sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been shown to damage the DNA of coral reefs. With changes underway in sunscreen-makeup-regulation, a new plant-based option like oilseed derivatives might be just what the sunblock market ordered.



Eureka Alert

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at
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