Sun protection takes inspiration from nature

Published: 11-May-2015

The 13th International Sun Protection Conference in London will feature the latest protection strategies

Development of a strategy is usually driven by the desire to fulfil a vision. Sun protection strategies have not been visionary. Over recent years sun protection strategies have been created on an ad hoc basis and influenced by limited knowledge of the effect of the sun’s radiation on the skin; availability of sun filters and associated formulation technology; regulatory controls; absence of test methodologies; absence of global harmonisation; consumerism; and in some instances, scientific dogma. In the year 2015 we are in a far better situation to consider a more holistic and visionary approach to sun protection.

The lecture programme of this year’s Sun Protection Conference in London will help us to this end. We will ask: “Can nature help us to develop future sun protection strategies? Can nature inspire our thinking?”

The quality of protection

The first sunscreens protected against sun burning alone and were essentially UVB protectants with low factors that allowed easy tanning of the skin. Modern sunscreen products may still provide highly heterogeneous attenuation of the sun’s rays not necessarily consistent with the quality of electromagnetic radiation experienced in nature.

As an industry we have been driven by the quantity of protection, as indicated by the SPF, and not necessarily the quality. A minimum level of UVA protection (1/3 of SPF) is now a requirement for most markets worldwide, but is this sufficient in terms of quality and quantity of broad spectrum protection? In terms of testing, it is understandable that there is a desire to test sunscreens for erythemal protection efficacy (SPF) on human volunteers, but is it really necessary to base UVA protection on a parameter that is a measure of exposure rather than damange (UVAPF based on PPD)? Is the PPD action spectrum sufficient to determine the broad spectrum characteristics of sun products? Skin’s natural sun protectant melanin also absorbs in the long wavelength UVA and blue light visible range: is this a natural sun protection model that we should be mimicking?

Dr Uli Osterwalder of BASF will develop and present this concept, in his paper ‘Spectral homeostasis – a property of future sunscreens?’. Marc Pissavini of Coty Lancaster will propose a global approach to sun protection considering UV, visible and infrared protection.

Other observations from nature will be explored and discussed. Professor Alfio Parisi from the University of Southern Queensland will discuss solar UV spectral variations caused by natural and built factors, while Professor Paul Matts of Procter & Gamble (P&G), will present natural photoprotection afforded by melanin, hair and shadow. In addition, Dr Christina Österlund of Oriflame Cosmetics will look at natural substances such as phytocompounds, while John Staton of Dermatest will answer the question ‘Natural or efficient – does nature compromise science?’

The conference will also address the necessity of photoprotection and ethnic skin types (P&G’s Dr J Nash); the importance of SPF for contact lenses (Dr Anna Sulley of Johnson & Johnson); a comparison of tanning from sunscreens and sunbeds (BASF’s Osterwalder); and consumer trends and innovations in sun care (Ramaa Chipalkatti of Datamonitor Consumer). Dr Jürgen Vollhardt of DSM Nutritional Products will also ask: ‘Can we create the ideal high performance sunscreen?’

Questions of testing & regulation

In vivo SPF is renowned for its variability and more recently the ethics of exposing human volunteers to relatively high doses of UV rays has been questioned. Dr Dominique Lutz of HelioScreen Cosmetic Science and Joseph Stanfield of Suncare Research Laboratories Winston Salem will discuss in vitro SPF and the future use of these as reliable replacements for the in vivo test. We know that even with good intentioned sun protection strategies, if regulators do not allow the use of new sunscreens then the vision will remain unfulfilled. This is happening in the US where, at a recent Non-Prescription Drug Advisory Committee (NDAC) meeting, the FDA reviewed its requirements for safety of UV filters and summarily rejected those currently approved in Europe. Therefore, new photostable and broad spectrum sunscreens used in most countries which are now seeking access to the US cannot be used in the country. Dr Jennifer Rempe, of US-based Energizer Personal Care, will update us on this topic. Debra Redbourn of dR Cosmetic Regulations will present an update on global regulations, which are important in every market.

Dr Richard Weller from the University Department of Dermatology, Edinburgh, will return to the debate on sun protection strategies in his lecture ‘Sunshine protection: what are we trying to achieve?’ He will present his theory that sunlight keeps us healthy in many ways, including via the release of nitric oxide from reservoirs in the skin, which reduces our blood pressure. High blood pressure, he argues, is the greatest cause of death in the Western world, and so planned sun exposure is a major health consideration.

In the open discussion session, our panel of experts and delegates will explore and debate how to provide the most effective sun protection strategies for the future. This promises to be an exciting and creative event which could be a key moment of change in how we think and develop our approaches to sun protection.

The International Sun Protection Conference 2015 will take place on 9-10 June at The Royal College of Surgeons in London. Click here for more details and to book.


Dr Jack Ferguson, Skinnovation Ltd

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