15-year-old wins top UK science award for eco-friendly sunscreen

The student created an at-home testing kit to experiment with natural chemical-free sunscreens.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of sunscreen.jpg
Representational image of sunscreen.


A 15-year-old girl from Londonderry, UK called Kaycee Deery has been crowned the country’s Young Scientist of the Year for creating a sunscreen that avoids the use of harmful chemicals prominent in other sunscreens that can damage the environment.

This is according to a report by the BBC published on Friday.

To do this, Deery engineered a home-made UVA lightbox and tested natural oils for their ability to provide protection for the skin without the addition of toxic chemicals.

The invention won her one of the UK’s most prestigious awards but the humble girl revealed she was still surprised by the nomination.

"I'm still in shock," she told BBC Radio Foyle's Mark Patterson Show.

"I don't think it has sunk in yet and I don't think it will for a while."

Deery explained she was inspired to make the product after reading about eco-damaging chemicals found in commercial sunscreens that were making their way into UK water systems.

"We needed to find a more eco-friendly solution because the store-bought kind are harming the marine life and the coral reefs, which just isn't fair," told the BBC the student.

That’s when she came up with the idea of creating natural sunscreens with UVA protection, derived from naturally-occurring oils.

To do this, she had to test each oil’s inherent ability to absorb and protect against UVA radiation.

So, she constructed a homemade lightbox containing a UVA light torch.

Her trials led her to create several natural sunscreens ranging from SPF9 to SPF34 protection.

She now plans to use the same method to incorporate UVB protection to help avoid damage to the skin such as burning that leads to an increased risk of skin cancer.

More protection needed

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, most people don’t apply enough sunscreen leading to dangerous sunburns that can later develop into skin cancer. The organization has some key tips for wearing sunscreen.

“To achieve the Sun Protection Factor (SPF, which protects against the sun’s UVB radiation) reflected on a bottle of sunscreen, you should use approximately two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. In practice, this means applying the equivalent of a shot glass (two tablespoons) of sunscreen to the exposed areas of the face and body – a nickel-sized dollop to the face alone. If you’re using a spray, apply until an even sheen appears on the skin,” says the organization’s site.

“Remember that sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours, or more frequently after swimming, heavy perspiration, or toweling off. Also remember, no matter how much sunscreen you apply, the SPF should be 15 or higher for adequate protection – and ideally 30 or higher for extended time spent outdoors. Be sure your sunscreen says “broad spectrum” on the label, which means the product protects against UVA and UVB rays.”