Photo/IllutrationA white-tailed skimmer dragonfly (Provided by Ryo Futahashi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A dragonfly species in Japan secretes wax that reflects ultraviolet light, which could be used in sunscreens for people with metal allergies.

Metals in currently available sunblock products cause allergic reactions in some users.

The special water-repellent wax in the dragonflies, which inhabit broad areas in Japan, could help develop biologically derived sunscreens for people with allergies, according to a Japanese team studying the insects.

The scientists from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) and other institutions are conducting further research into detailed properties of the wax, which they said was found to contain special components seldom seen in other creatures.

Mature males of the white-tailed skimmer dragonfly (Orthetrum albistylum), typically seen by the waterside in bright sunlight, strongly reflect ultraviolet light on and around their backs. The team studied components that are abundantly secreted from their dorsal sections and found a waxy substance resembling fat.

Microscopic studies showed the wax surface is covered with fine plate-like grains that scatter light, piled on top of one another.

“The components we have found could help develop biologically derived sunscreens that are quite unlike conventional products, although there is a need to study their safety and other properties,” said Ryo Futahashi, an AIST senior researcher, who was part of the study team.

The research results were published in eLife, a British scientific journal.