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Not Your Mother's Sunscreen

By: Steve Herman
Posted: December 12, 2012, from the January 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

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The tests were conducted on human skin cells and immune cells for their likelihood of eliciting an immune system response. Alterations in biomarkers were assessed and measured using a specific quantitative assay, and the dose response profile of each test compound can be compared to known reference material. The rating comprises five “product indicators”—immunostimulation, immunosuppression, phototoxicity, protection against UV damage, and protection against UV immunosupression—to indicate performance.

Immune balance rating involves many steps and differs for each indicator. As an example of the materials used, testing immunostimulation and immunosuppresion uses treated or derivatives of THP-1 human monocyte cells. Established 30 years ago, THP-1 cells are widely used in cell culture across the world. They have the ability to secrete mediators such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1 alpha) and interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) into the media. These are materials that should be familiar to anyone studying immune response, and, in this case, can predict hyperallergenicity among other properties.

A Place in Sun Care

Why get involved with all this? Because one thing sunscreens can do is prevent melanomas, including most critically malignant melanomas. To do it optimally, sun care product developers and formulators must think past SPF to all the other damaging cascades triggered by UV radiation. The sunscreens of the future will offer much greater lifetime protection by taking advantage of the deeper insight we are now gaining in the underlying causes of the damage.

The tool box of cosmetic science now contains an ever-increasing load of biological pathways, and thus, the formulation of the sunscreen of the future goes far beyond SPF and water resistance, extending to the fundamental causes and prevention of malignant melanoma. The total formulation, not just the actives, must be considered far more carefully. It is challenging, more so than just extending protection from UVB to UVA. But these challenges are what moves the beauty industry forward and make it so exciting.


  1. NYSCC International Symposium, Sun Exposure: Implications and Protection of Skin, Oct 12, 2012
  2. (Accessed Dec 11, 2012)
  3. A Fourtanier, et al., Measurement of sunscreen immune protection factors in humans: a consensus paper, J Invest Dermatol, Sep 125(3), 403–409 (2005)

Steve Herman is president of Diffusion LLC, a consulting company specializing in regulatory issues, intellectual property, and technology development and transfer. He is a principal in PJS Partners, offering formulation, marketing and technology solutions for the personal care and fragrance industry. He is the New York Society of Cosmetic Chemist’s 2013 Chapter Chairman and an adjunct professor in the Fairleigh Dickinson University Masters in Cosmetic Science program. He is also a Fellow in the Society of Cosmetic Chemists.