Bomb blasts send waves of highly compressed wind away from the explosion, followed by a two-second thermal blast. That blast heats anything in its way to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and people caught up in the explosion often suffer potentially deadly third-degree burns. Soldiers wearing standard camouflage make-up face an additional risk: the wax-based make-up melts into their faces under the heat.
To get around this problem, the Department of Defense commissioned a new camouflage make-up that could protects soldiers’ faces from intense heat from bomb blasts. After trying out a few thousand formulas, a group of researchers finally found one that resists heat for up to 15 seconds before the makeup’s temperature climbs to the point where mild first-degree burns become possible on a person’s face or hands. In some tests on pig skin, their makeup provided protection for up to 60 seconds, which is usually enough time for a soldier to get out of the range of harm.
One innovation was to use a silicone base, which isn’t as flammable as the fatty substances in traditional wax-based camouflage. Co.Exist reports:
Another challenge was finding a way to safely incorporate DEET, a flammable insect repellent, which must make up 35% of all camouflage makeup, according to a mandate from the military. Lochhead said his team encapsulated DEET in a hydrogel substance, a water-rich material, preventing it from catching fire.
The University of Southern Mississippi-based researchers are still in the initial phases of animal testing, but they hope to eventually develop a formula that could be applied to the outside of fabric, tents and other materials to prevent it from burning. They’re also working on a colorless version for firefighters.
More from Smithsonian.com: