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Chementator: Toxic plant yields a potential skin protector

By Edited by Gerald Ondrey |

Milkweed, a plant that is toxic to farm animals and other creatures, may be a future source of a base material for sunscreen and other skin care products. Milkweed is harvested for floss, used as a hypoallergenic filler for pillows and comforters, and a byproduct of that work is an unsaturated oil. A process that converts triglycerides in that oil to ultraviolet- (UV) light-absorbing compounds has been patented by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (Peoria, Ill.; ars.usda.gov). The oil is extracted from the plant by pressing or solvent extraction, then is converted to cinamic acid derivatives by reaction with cinamic acid. The reaction takes place at below 110°C, using a zinc catalyst, says Rogers Harry-O’kuru, a research chemist. The liquid compound absorbs harmful UV rays in the range of 200 – 360 nm at concentrations of only 1 – 3%, which is well below the 5% required by the U.S. Food and Drug Admin. (FDA; Washington, D.C.) for the active ingredients in commercial sunscreens, he says. Also, it contains natural antioxidants such as tocopherols. Harry-O’kuru says the liquid compound could be incorporated into creams and gels for topical application.…
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