Are Cashew Shells The Next Safe Sunscreen Ingredient? Science Says Yes

Editorial Assistant By Jamie Schneider
Editorial Assistant

Jamie Schneider is the Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen with a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan. She's previously written for Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.

Image by Orban Alija / Getty Images

Sunscreen has become quite the topic of conversation this summer—not only because of our appreciation for beach vacations but because of the FDA's recent decision to re-research their findings on what's considered "safe" ingredients for UV protection.  

What the FDA found is only zinc oxide and titanium oxide can safely absorb UVA and UVB rays while still remaining environmentally friendly. This means only two out of the 16 previously considered "safe" ingredients were given the green light for both our skin and the planet.

Given these constraints, scientists have been looking to find new ways to create UV protection that meets these new regulations. One of these ways, believe it or not, is through cashew shells. Scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand discovered a technique called xylochemistry, which produces useful compounds from nonedible plant waste. Using this xylochemistry process with cashew shells, the researchers were able to produce compounds that showed significant UVA and UVB absorbance—an exciting notion for those of us who quickly tossed our synthetic avobenzone and homosalate-filled products as soon as the FDA released their new regulations.  

This research is groundbreaking, as cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL) would be a UV protection ingredient that is not only safe for our planet but is also eco-friendly in terms of the sourcing process. Cashew shells are typically disposed of in cashew-farming, as these shells are inedible, so scientists would repurpose them with little extracting effort or harsh effects on the environment. 

"Cashew nut shells are a waste product in the cashew-farming community, especially in Tanzania, so finding a useful, sustainable way to use these waste products can lead to completely new, environmentally friendly ways of doing things," the author of the paper, Charles de Koning, Ph.D., said in a news release. Meaning, these cashew shells are entirely organic and biorenewable—a combination that would make them the most sustainable source of sunscreen to date. 

While this research remains in its preliminary stages, we're eager to see how cashew shell UV protection would be formulated into sunscreens, as well as the wearability of these products once they commercialize. The current mineral sunscreens on the market tend to leave a white cast on the skin, so it'll be interesting to see if the cashew shell formulation would act as a more sheer alternative. (Here's hoping so!)

It seems like the newest organic sunscreen ingredient may have been easier to find than we thought—all we had to do was turn toward our agriculture. But before cashew shell sunscreens hit the shelves of our local beauty aisles, be sure to follow the EWG guidelines for safe sunscreens. Make sure to practice safe sun, and always keep yourself protected.

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