Sun protection

Safety is a top priority

Are sunscreen products using nanofilters safe for consumers? Why are there so many preconceptions against it? Can you make sunscreens that are environmentally friendly? Opinions on this widely differ in terms of reporting and also public opinion. We want to bring light into the darkness and have exchanged ideas with our solar experts in Grenzach. Dr. Myriam Sohn took some time for a short Q&A for us.

Dr. Myriam Sohn
Dr. Myriam Sohn

Myriam, let's start with a fact that I think everyone can probably agree on: Sun protection is important.
Myriam Sohn: I hope that everyone now sees it like this. Even if we should all enjoy the sun, and it is also good for us, we have to protect ourselves from the invisible dangers of UV radiation. Sunburn, premature skin aging, skin cancer, to name just a few of the possible types of damage, can be avoided or at least reduced with the correct use of sun protection products.

Even if the benefits are clear, the image of sunscreen is not the best. Why is that?
Myriam Sohn: In general, chemical ingredients are viewed, discussed and evaluated critically. Sunscreens are subject to particular scrutiny. The focus is primarily on two aspects. On the one hand, it is safety for the people who apply sunscreens. On the other hand, there is the desire for environmental compatibility. Unfortunately, a lot of information that end consumers read, be it in blogs or on various social media channels, is sometimes based on false or scientifically unproven statements. The names of the various UV filters and the confusion and uncertainty resulting from them is also something that has been written about here.  More information: UV filter types

When it comes to UV filters, nanofilters come off particularly badly in public opinion.
Myriam Sohn: There has been a lot of negative publicity around this in recent years. Among consumers, this leads to uncertainty. They have concerns about applying these types of sunscreens.

We have the opportunity to do something about the bad image here. Why are nanofilters good?
Myriam Sohn: First of all, I would like to say something about safety. Before UV filters can be brought to the market, they undergo very complex registration processes which is mandatory for non-nano and nano UV filters. For Europe, this is strictly regulated by the EU Cosmetics Regulation (Regulation (EC) No. 1223/2009). UV filters in nano form are therefore closely examined and evaluated by a Scientific Committee. If the safety of the UV filter molecule is scientifically proven with supporting data, approval is granted. For end users, this clearly means: That the products containing approved UV filters can be used without any worries or concerns.

However, now there is the suspicion that filters in nano form are able to penetrate the skin and are therefore hazardous to health.
Myriam Sohn: This is also part of the extensive tests and investigations required for approval. Incidentally, whether a substance really penetrates or can penetrate your skin does not only depend on the particle size of the molecule. The chemical structure, molecular weight, solubility, polarity and melting point all have a significant influence on penetration. Incidentally, an interesting fact: We have organic and inorganic particulate filters in our portfolio that are highly unlikely to penetrate skin. They have a particle size of 20 – 500 nanometers and are therefore much larger than soluble UV filters dissolved in water or oil. So nano means big for UV filters. But now to the benefits. Nanofilters are highly efficient in the field of UV protection. We can work with substances that would otherwise not be considered for sun protection due to their insolubility in water and oil. In a micronization process, these substances are prepared in such a way that they are able then to effectively absorb in the UV range and can be used in sunscreen formulations. The smaller the size, the more efficient the absorbing properties of the resulting UV filter.  So we need smaller quantities of UV filters for effective sun protection. For us, this also means that we gain greater flexibility in the field of sensory adjustment of the final product. Although absorption is the main mechanism, the particles also have the ability to scatter and reflect the light, giving them efficiency in the blue light waveband.

Nanotechnology — a key to innovation

Nanotechnology is under dispute. Many consumers feel uncertain about using products containing nano filters. For the sake of sun protection they are very powerful though.

More information

Some sunscreens have the disadvantage that they have this so-called "whitening" effect. Are nano filters involved?
Myriam Sohn: Yes, particulate filters can cause some whitening, However, the effect is dependent on the concentration and formulation used. Yet they do not have to or cannot be dissolved, we need therefore fewer emollients that would normally be needed for the dissolution of the solid and lipophilic UV filters. This gives us additional flexibility when it comes to the topic of "feeling to the skin".

What about the sun protection factor?
Myriam Sohn: This is another advantage for formulators and manufacturers of sunscreen products. We are much more able to more easily achieve higher SPFs using nanofilters. Nano offers benefits for everyone, both end users and formulators.

Let's move on to the second aspect of the sun protection discussion, with the environmental compatibility. Is there sun protection that does not cause any damage to the environment?
Myriam Sohn: I would like to add the words of my colleague Stéphanie Acker, who has been working intensively on our EcoSun Pass® in recent months: "Development continues all the time. With today's knowledge, the facts and results available, sun protection products can be developed and formulated with as little impact on the environment as possible". It is important to point out the level of knowledge. There are many investigations and studies underway on the effects and damage that sunscreen products leave behind in the sea and especially on coral reefs. 

Here our tool is described in detail: EcoSun Pass® - nature and humans in harmony

What exactly is being investigated with the EcoSun Pass®?
Myriam Sohn: We are very aware of the importance of keeping a close eye on its environmental footprint and minimizing the environmental impact of our products. The EcoSun Pass® examines UV filters as key figures in the sun protection formulations and evaluates to what extent the filter system used is environmentally friendly or less environmentally friendly. Incidentally, the transparent evaluation does not only take into account our own filters. By the way, I would like to come back to the topic of nano again. Due to the high efficiency and the resulting lower quantity that must be processed in the sun cream, less of the UV filter is naturally carried into the environment, e.g. when bathing in the sea.

Myriam, thank you very much for the interview. Hope to see you soon. The topic of sun protection is so diverse and interesting, there is a lot to be said about it.
Myriam Sohn: You're very welcome.