Sunscreen Talk: What is really in our sunscreen?

By Rakeb Girma, Teya Stevens, Venus Montgomery, and Hannah Gibson

On November 7th we called Neutrogena and asked them three questions regarding our sunscreen experiment and sunscreen regulations. After a long wait and one crazy story to tell(a whole other story), we talked with a representative named Geoff. The first question we asked was “What is the highest effective SPF value?” In reply the Neutrogena representative said the highest effective SPF value is 100 because that is the highest allowed by the FDA. In reality, the highest approved SPF value is 50. “The FDA now says that there is no legitimate evidence to suggest that anything above SPF 50 will provide increased protection (Wazer, 2011, Why You Don’t Have To Wear SPF 100 Anymore).”  Another question we asked the representative was, “What is the difference between sunscreen and sunblock?” His response was, “Sunscreen is a chemical substance used to protect skin from UV from the sun.”

Sunscreen contains many chemicals and we wanted to learn more about the sunscreen manufacturing process.

After chemists and dermatologists develop the formula for sunscreen, they make small ten gallon batches in stainless steel vats to be tested by the company and the FDA. If the sunscreen is approved, more batches of sunscreen are made in bigger vats that hold up to 1,000 gallons of sunscreen. Purified water is a key ingredient in sunscreen. Water is purified by reverse osmosis, where it is pushed through a filter that removes dissolved salts and metals. The other ingredients are then added. To make the containers, molten plastic is blown into a mold shaped like the bottle. The plastic cools to form a hollow container in the exact shape of the mold. Sometimes a bottle manufacturer stamps a logo onto the plastic while it is hot.  The bottles are filled by tubes connected to the 1,000 gallon vats and capped by a capping machine.

We also wanted to learn about harmful chemicals in sunscreen.

In sunscreen there are many different types of harmful ingredients. A harmful ingredient in sunscreen is retinyl palmitate. Retinyl palmitate may cause cancer or tumor growth. If women who are pregnant use products that have retinyl palmitate in it, their unborn child may have birth defects. A second harmful ingredient in sunscreen is oxybenzone.  Oxybenzone can cause hormone disruption. Oxybenzone can also cause cell damage. Another thing oxybenzone can cause is allergies. Finally, mothers who are expecting baby girls should not use products that have oxybenzone in it. When born, the baby girls would be underweight as a result.

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