"UV light can actually damage DNA, and that's not good for the skin," said Guy German, Assistant Professor at the Binghamton University in New York.
"We thought, let's flip it. What happens instead if we actually used DNA as a sacrificial layer? So instead of damaging DNA within the skin, we damage a layer on top of the skin," German added.
The new sunscreen is made up of thin and optically transparent crystalline DNA films that have been irradiated with UV light. The more it gets exposed to UV light, the better the film can absorb it, the researchers found.
"It means that if you use this as a topical cream or sunscreen, the longer that you stay out on the beach, the better it gets at being a sunscreen," German said in the paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.
As an added bonus, the DNA coatings are also hygroscopic, meaning that skin coated with the DNA films can store and hold water much more than uncoated skin.
When applied to human skin, they are capable of slowing water evaporation and keeping the tissue hydrated for extended periods of time.
"Not only do we think this might have applications for sunscreen and moisturisers directly, but if it's optically transparent and prevents tissue damage from the sun and it's good at keeping the skin hydrated, we think this might be potentially exploitable as a wound covering for extreme environments," German added.