Q & A with Expert Sunscreen Formulator Steven Rogers
Updated: Mar 25
Since May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, we thought it would be great to interview Steven Rogers, a well-known formulator of sunscreens, to talk a little more about what goes into the process of SPF formulation and how we, as physicians, can better educate our patients about sunscreen use. Without further ado, here is what Mr. Rogers had to say:
Q: Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
A: I earned a Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Missouri (now Missouri Science & Technology) in 1986. I’ve been involved in the cosmetic/pharmaceutical raw material supply industry for over 30 years, working for both American and international (Germany & France headquartered) multinational companies, with various senior management roles in research & development and marketing & sales. I am the former VP of marketing/sales for SunSmart, Inc. – sold Z-COTE business to BASF in 1999. Currently, I am the President/CEO of Dynamic Cosmetics, Inc. Our company has been developing both sunscreen delivery systems and cosmetic raw material ingredients for more than 18 years. We are a major supplier of microfine zinc oxide and microfine titanium dioxide products to the sunscreen industry.
Q: What do you think is the most challenging part of formulating sunscreen?
A: Achieving consumer-desired expectations on “all natural” ingredients, while complying with FDA requirements for over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and associated allowable claims for sunscreens in the USA. Also, ensuring compliance with all requirements for sunscreen with varying country regulations.
Q. What do you think consumers need to know about sunscreen that they do not already know?
A: Most consumers do not know that sunscreens are considered “drugs” in the USA, Australia, Japan, and other countries, while they are considered cosmetics in the European Union. This leads to confusion about why some “active” screen ingredients are available in one region, but not in others. Sunscreens receive considerably more scrutiny and have to meet considerable regulation requirements here in the USA. Most are considerably safer to use than when manufactured in countries with fewer regulations…but, there is always room for improving formulations and technologies. The most recent focus has been on infrared and blue light protection provided by sunscreens. However, there is little well-documented evidence as to the damage caused by these particular wavelengths, and consumers should be cautious about marketers attempting to simply demonstrate a difference in their products versus true efficacy and need.
Q: Why are some people afraid of titanium dioxide sunscreens? Do you think this is relevant?
Titanium dioxide does exhibit higher potential for free radical/catalytic behavior versus zinc oxide, which could potentially lead to skin damage upon exposure to the sun. It is for this reason that titanium dioxide always comes surface-treated with another “inert” material such as silica, alumina, etc. to mitigate the potential risk of free radical behavior. Some concerns have been expressed about the potential of either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide entering the body when applied to the skin. Assuming the particle size is above 100 nm, this is very unlikely, and several studies have supported this conclusion.
Q: What do you think about antioxidants in sunscreens?
Antioxidants have been demonstrated in several studies to provide beneficial properties in cosmetic topical formulations through the reduction of oxidative damage when exposed to the environment (sun, pollutants, etc.). These properties are also the case when included in sunscreens. It should simply be noted that most antioxidants have a reduction in erythema effect by reducing free radical damage and can also have an anti-inflammatory effect. This can result in increased SPF values in sunscreens by reducing the reddening (erythema) when exposed to the skin. However, antioxidants are not filters for UV (solar radiation) and, therefore, are not “blocking” the UV from the skin. They can, potentially, assist in skin repair, but this has not been well researched in clinical study detail.
Q: Why is the sunscreen formulation is so critical?
As important as the sunscreen actives — for example, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, octinoxate, oxybenzone, homosalate, etc. — are in achieving the desired UV filter protection by a sunscreen, it is equally important that the formulation be developed to ensure these materials are applied evenly and effectively to the skin. Without proper formulation, sunscreens can be ineffective, even with the inclusion of the proper type and concentration of sunscreen actives. It has been well demonstrated that the type and size of emulsion droplets created in making a formation greatly affects the SPF and overall solar protection properties of a formulation. The formulation will likely only be properly used if the formulation delivery system is both elegant in cosmetic appearance and feel, in addition to being properly formulated for delivery of the sunscreen actives. Thus, the “other ingredients” listed on the “Drug Facts” panel are just as important as the “actives” listed there as well.
Consumers should be aware that some claims, such as phototoxicity and photoallergy (non-allergenic), require clinical testing to support these claims. However, other claims, such as “hypoallergenic,” do not have a clinical definition and are not usually supported by clinical data testing, despite the widespread use of this term in many consumer skin care products.
Not only do patients need to know how and when to apply sunscreen in their daily skin care regimen, but they also need help choosing the right product for their skin that has been properly formulated to maximize its effectiveness. Because sunscreens are considered a drug in the United States, they must undergo strict testing guidelines to determine their safety, efficacy, and SPF. It is our job as physicians to make sure patients are aware of the importance of wearing an effective sunscreen every day to keep their skin protected from UV radiation and the adverse health effects that it can cause.
Be on the lookout for more Q & As with skin care experts like Steven Rogers, as well as additional tips and advice from Dr. Leslie Baumann. To be sure you don’t miss anything, you can connect with me (Leslie Baumann) on LinkedIn.