A team from the University of Southern Mississippi has developed a form of camouflage face makeup that not only prevents soldiers from being seen by the enemy, but also shields their faces from the searing heat of bomb blasts. The innovation represents one of the biggest fundamental changes in military camouflage for thousands of years. However the new make-up won’t just be for military purposes – the scientists who developed it think that the heat-resistant face paint could also help firefighters.

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The silicone-based camouflage was presented by Robert Lochhead, Ph.D. at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society – the world’s largest scientific society. He explained that while soldiers have used face paint for centuries to help their skin blend in with the natural environment, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have raised the need to protect troops from roadside bombs. The new make-up will provide protection from the searing heat of roadside bomb blasts that have caused devastating injuries to soldiers.

“The detonation of a roadside bomb or any other powerful explosive produces two dangerous blasts,” Lochhead said. “First comes a blast wave of high pressure that spreads out at supersonic speeds and can cause devastating internal injuries. A thermal blast follows almost instantaneously. It is a wave of heat that exceeds 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s as hot as a burning cigarette. The thermal blast lasts only two seconds, but it can literally cook the face, hands and other exposed skin.”

The U.S. Department of Defense has actively been looking for a solution that was previously thought to be impossible – material that soldiers could smear on their faces like suntan lotion, leaving a coating thinner than a sheet of paper that can still protect against intense heat.

The University of Mississippi team includes Dr. Paige Buchanan, Kelli Booth, Michelle McClusky, Laura Anderson and Lochhead. They discovered and tested a formulation that protects way beyond the 2-second heat-wave threat from improvised explosive devices and other bombs. Instead of two seconds, the new make-up can protect for up to 15 seconds before its own temperature rises to the point where a first-degree burn, which is a mild burn, might occur.

While the university team have met the multiple criteria (reflect intense heat; have camouflage colors suitable for day and night use, be easy to apply and remove, be waterproof and be non-irritating to the eyes, nose and mouth), they have also gone one step further and added DEET, an insect repellent.

“DEET also is flammable, so when the Department of Defense asked us to incorporate it, we didn’t think we could do it,” Lochhead noted. But the team successfully included DEET by encapsulating it in a hydrogel substance, a water-rich material that prevents DEET from catching fire. The team is now working on a transparent version for firefighters.

+ American Chemical Society Press Release

Via Associated Press

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