For millennia, face paint has helped soldiers avoid being seen by enemy forces. This Wednesday, however, a team of scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi announced that a new type of face paint may soon also be able to protect against the heat of bomb blasts and other explosions. Additionally, a clear version of the paint could be used by civilian firefighters.

The team created the material at the request of the U.S. Department of Defense, which was looking for an unobtrusive way of protecting soldiers’ exposed skin from the thermal blasts created by weapons such as roadside bombs.

It was definitely a challenge, as the scientists weren’t able to use traditional hydrocarbon-based makeup ingredients, as they are flammable when exposed to intense heat. Instead, they used silicones, as the wavelengths at which they absorb radiation are outside of the intense heat spectrum.

Making things more difficult was the fact that the paint did have to include DEET, the flammable insect repellant – the U.S. military stipulates that all camouflage makeup it uses must be composed of at least 35 percent DEET. In this case, the researchers got around the problem by encapsulating the DEET within a hydrogel, to keep it from igniting.

When tested in a lab setting, a layer of the paint that was thinner than a sheet of paper was found to be very effective. It was able to reflect intense heat, similar to that created by a bomb blast, for up to 15 seconds. At that point, its temperature rose to a point at which its wearer might experience first-degree burns. As a point of reference, thermal blasts from explosives typically only last for about two seconds.

In some situations, the paint was even found to provide protection for up to 60 seconds. This could allow soldiers time to move away from fires, or let firefighters work with greater safety.

Along with its heat-reflecting and insect-repelling qualities, the paint can also be made in colors for day and night use, it’s non-irritating, easy to apply and remove, and waterproof. The team are now looking into its application on items such as clothing and tents.

The research was presented in Philadelphia, at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

Source: ACS