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ARS News Service
Agricultural Research Service, USDA
Jan Suszkiw, (301) 504-1630, [email protected]
February 5, 2009
--View this report online, plus photos and related stories, at www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr
Common milkweed is the only food source of monarch butterfly
caterpillars. But for some farmers, the plant is also a valuable source
of floss that can be harvested for use as a hypoallergenic filler for
high-end pillows, comforters and jacket linings.
Floss, though, isn't the only useable portion of milkweed. Unsaturated
oil in the plant's seed also has potential as a base material for
sunscreen, cosmetics and skin- and hair-care products, including
moisturizers and conditioners. That's the conclusion Agricultural
Research Service (ARS) chemist Rogers Harry-O'kuru drew after analyzing
the oil's waxes and assorted fatty acids.
In studies at the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization
Research in Peoria, Ill., Harry-O'kuru devised a procedure for using
zinc chloride to catalyze the conversion of milkweed oil's
triglycerides into ultraviolet (UV)-light-absorbing compounds called
cinamic acid derivatives.
In tests at the center's New Crops and Processing Technology Research
Unit, the derivatives absorbed UV rays in the range of 260 to 360
nanometers--wavelengths that can damage skin. Additionally, the
milkweed-oil derivatives accomplished this at very low concentrations
of 1 to 5 percent, a range far below that approved for today's topical
skin formulations, many of which use chemical fillers or sun blocks.
Harry-O'kuru's milkweed-oil-based sunscreen also contains natural
antioxidants such as tocopherols, which are often added to cosmetics as
skin-nourishing ingredients. The sunscreen's unique combination of fats
and waxes may also qualify it as biodegradable and help keep it from
washing off during a swim. Its current form is a clear liquid, but
gels, creams, sticks and aerosol sprays are also possible, according to
Besides skin- and hair-care products, the UV-absorbent base material he
has devised could also be tailored for use in epoxies, paints and other
industrial applications. ARS has patented Harry-O'kuru's base material
and is seeking an industrial partner to develop the technology further.
Read more about the research in the February 2009 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, available online at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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