Scientists have launched a project to make hair dye out of seaweed from around the Shetland Islands.
Scientists at the University of Leeds are planning to extract chemical compounds from different species of seaweed and use them to develop a new range of hair dyes. The naturally sourced compounds will be used by scientists as substitutes for synthetic ingredients that can be found in most hair dyes currently on the market.
Many compounds in existing products are allergens and certain chemicals, notably p-phenylenediamine (PPD), have been linked to more serious long-term health effects.
The project also hopes to develop other safer and more environmentally friendly cosmetics, including hair treatments and skin care, from the compounds extracted from the Shetland seaweed.
"We are hoping to be able to offer people a real alternative to current hair dyes that contain chemicals which are known to be very bad for you," explains project leader Dr Richard Blackburn, a natural products researcher at The University of Leeds.
The good news is that the new hair dyes won't be green - scientists are confident that a range of colours including blonde, brown and red, and even black, can be made using the seaweed extracts.
"We can make a range of colours using these natural compounds because the variety of British seaweed species is so diverse," explains Professor Christopher Rayner, also at the University of Leeds, who is working alongside Dr Blackburn on the project.
"Seaweed is especially suited to being used in cosmetics because it has evolved very clever techniques to protect itself from weathering. And cosmetics are all about protection from ageing and the elements," says Dr Blackburn.
Laboratory work at the University of Leeds will focus on developing ways of isolating and extracting individual compounds found in seaweed that have these special properties in order to understand them better and explore their potential uses in other products.
The 2-year project is worth just over £500,000, including an investment of nearly £300,000 from the Technology Strategy Board plus from projects partners, including The Body Shop and Böd Ayre, Shetland seaweed farmers and processors based in Lunnaness.
"This could bring commercial and job opportunities to Shetland for a new high-value farming industry. It would be much better to extract the seaweed on Shetland rather than shipping elsewhere for processing," said Margaret Blance from Böd Ayre.
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Notes for editors:
Dr Richard Blackburn is a Senior Lecturer in Coloration Technology in the Centre for Technical Textiles at the University of Leeds.
Christopher Rayner is a Professor of organic chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds.
The research project's full title is "Extraction, isolation and application of natural polyphenols, polysaccharides and pigments from British seaweed for high-value applications".
The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015. http://www.leeds.ac.uk/
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In the 2008 RAE, the Centre for Technical Textiles entered into the General Engineering unit of assessment (UoA 25) with colleagues from the School of Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering; the group was ranked 3rd in the country, with a GPA of 3.0.
The Technology Strategy Board is a business-led executive non-departmental public body, established by the government. Its role is to promote and support research into, and development and exploitation of, technology and innovation for the benefit of UK business, in order to increase economic growth and improve the quality of life. It is sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). For further information please visit http://www.innovateuk.org/.