A scientist who wondered how ivy clings so tenaciously to fences or walls made a breakthrough discovery that the aerial roots of the plant are covered in nanoparticles. These tiny particles  are 1,000 times thinner than the diameter of a human hair create the ability for the vine leaves to hold almost 2 million more times than its weight. Not only do they cling on surfaces for dear life, but they can absorb and scatter light in the UV spectrum. This makes ivy a potential sunscreen ingredient.

And a powerful one at that. Researchers said ivy protection from ultraviolet light is at least four times better than mineral sunscreens.

Unlike the nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that currently form the basis of mineral sunscreen products, ivy nanoparticles do not absorb and scatter light in the visible spectrum, meaning they remain almost invisible when applied to the skin.

More importantly, ivy nanoparticles have a more attractive safety profile that the metal-oxide nanoparticles, according to Mingjun Zhang at the University of Tennessee.

Zhang’s team investigated the degradability of the ivy nanoparticles as well as their potential to cross the skin barrier and their cytotoxicity. After 24 hours there was no toxicity seen with the ivy nanoparticles; however, with the same concentration of titanium dioxide nanoparticles, significant toxicity to HeLa cells was seen.

The team thinks it unlikely that the ivy nanoparticles would manage to cross the skin barrier, but if they did it has been established that would not degrade and cause cellular damage.