I have been quite lucky. I live near London, and consequently I have been able to attend a few of these events over the last few years. For those that don’t know the Sun protection conference is an event held in central London every two years. It is organised by Dr Jack Ferguson one of the UK sun specialists, It draws together experts ( and here I really don’t use the term lightly ) from around the world to give presentations on the latest innovations, news and research in the area of sun care. This year was the eleventh conference and it was held on the 8th and 9th June.
This year conference was subtitled “The UVA challenge”, and drew speakers from USA, Australia, UK, France, Germany and Switzerland ( I don’t think I have forgotten any one ), and delegates from more countries than this. It had been booked out for a few months before the event, and I think this showed the quality of speakers that had been gathered together.
The subject of UVA protection is a tricky one. For many years the only viable UVA filter was Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, and this itself is quite unstable. But how much damage has the UVA been doing to our skin? This was the topic of the first couple of papers by Professor Rex Tyrell from Bath University and Dr. Steven Wang from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering cancer centre.
UVA has been one of those things that everyone knows exists and that it is bad for us, but no one has quite worked out exactly why. The mechanisms of action for some of the things being studied by a lot of the presenters at the conference are far more intricate biochemistry that I could ever do justice to so I won’t try. I can try and interpret the general themes.
Dr. Wang did quite a comprehensive review as to how sunscreen use helped ( or not ) against skin cancers. The review of literature that he showed to us was actually very insightful. The major sets of studies that have been performed seem to have only used SPF 15 products and, because none of them are particularly recent, only UVB protection. This means that the data that they have given us, although useful and is what I would call good scientific data, it is not very helpful in assessing the current situation as to whether or not sunscreen help with skin cancers or not.
All this before lunch on the first day !!!
After a quick review of the Australian attitudes towards sun exposure over the last 50 years or so, we were then treated to a presentation by Professor Brian Diffey. For those that don’t know the name Brian is the man after whom the “Diffey method” of UVA testing is named, and a person who has single handedly done more for the study of photo biology and the generation of standard methods for testing sunscreens than anyone else I can think of.
And as always he did not disappoint. Always slightly controversial, but always to the point he simply showed that actually over a lifetime you can modify your actions to slow down the actions of photodamage, and no matter when you start it is never too early to start using a sunscreen to protect yourself.
We then spent the afternoon looking at the various test methods that are being used and how various authorities are looking to use them in labelling. Unfortunately at this point that FDA hadn’t released their current position statement, so a little bit of this was conjecture, fortunately most of this has actually happened since, much to our relief. Also the perception of the general public was discussed, lets be honest we can all get a little confused sometimes when it comes to what certain things mean, and we are in the industry that creates them, so what does this say to people who are not in the know. Which products are best ? Which are better to use ? What do all the numbers, stars, ratios, and letters all over a pack actually mean to a normal person ( not one of us science geeks ). Every territory is different, why ? What should we actually be putting on a pack to make it mean something ? After some long and hard discussions on all of this we all called it a day.
The start of the next day was a little bit of guess work, specifically about what the FDA were going to do. Actually this was pretty good, and I feel I should get everyone to ask Dr Jennifer Martin Rempe from Energiser personal care, USA what the lottery numbers are, as the suggestions that she made align pretty closely with what the FDA have subsequently published ( of course, she may have been in the know, but I would like to imagine otherwise ).
Some quick global legislation reviews lead us nicely onto looking at how other things may be used as markers for damage, rather than just looking at simple markers such as sunburn. Some of the work presented previously showed that certain immune system processes are increased when UV radiation is applied. This type of system could, in the future, be used to see if free radicals are being generated, or further DNA damage is being caused ( or prevented ) by sun exposure, and or the use of sunscreens. The Australians seem to be leading the charge on this, and they have been trying to develop an Immune response factor, which could be used as an alternative to the SPF. At this point I also have to mention the talk given on the first day by Gavin Greenoak of the Australian Photobiology testing facility in Australia. Gavin discussed broad spectrum formulations and how this had an effect on damage caused and prevented. A lot of the photodamage that occurs is done by UVA. There is one simple reason for this, that it penetrates further into the skin than the UVB and C. All of the immune responses discussed are quite deep processes in the epidermis and are mostly triggered by UVA damage.
Gavin had discussed the principle of broad spectrum coverage, because that is what protects the most. What they have also found however is that the UVA will also trigger some useful immunological responses that could help repair some of the damage being caused, but only when the exposure also includes UVB radiation.
Yes, this made my head hurt a bit as well. What it boiled down to is protect yourself from the suns radiation, but all of it not just selective fractions.
We finished the two days with some discussion of how to formulate decent sun products, from using particulates and how these affect your products, through to seeing if it is possible to actually formulate a single product that would be accepted globally ( it is, but it is so hard as to not be worth the bother in my opinion….. ).
This is a very brief overview of two days of quite heavy science full of fascinating and informative presentations from some of the worlds experts in suncare. The conference gives you the opportunity to have discussions with key figures in the market and also the people setting some of the legislations (although not present this year the PCPC presented in 2009 ). It is also my interpretation of it, which is not to be held as verbatim, it is my understanding of what was said. I would highly recommend getting to the 2013 conference if suncare is your thing, and they also organise an anti-aging conference in the middle years, if you can’t wait that long for some hard science.
This years program is still available from the Summit Events website, if anyone is interested to see the full range of speakers and topics.
About Richard Summers
Having fallen in to the cosmetics industry by accident after leaving university, Rich spent time developing a wide variety of cosmetics and toiletries. Having now moved into the distribution side of the industry, Rich now spends his time giving technical, formulation, application, and regulatory support to customers all across the UK.