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Consumers have witnessed a sun care revolution over the past few decades, with broad-spectrum protection, improved actives and efficacious blends, but an understanding of the mechanisms behind sun protection has grown exponentially thanks to the photobiologists and formulators responsible for such research. Leading the pack has been Gavin Greenoak, managing and scientific director of the Australian Photobiology Testing Facility Pty., Ltd. (APTF). After 25 years in the industry, he continues to strive for a better understanding of the interaction of light and the human body. Greenoak’s career began in cancer research, which has afforded him unique insight of skin biology and the effects of sun exposure.
C&T: Why were you interested in researching cancer?
The relationship between cancer and the human body has always passionately interested me. Nothing gives you cancer; cancer is a relationship between the body and external influences. To understand those influences, such as sunlight and diet, one must understand the context rather than looking for a culprit. People spend a lot of time outside in Australia, and to conduct research that allows them to enjoy outdoor activities in an informed rather than anxious way has always been my objective.
C&T: How did you transition to sunscreen research?
In the 1980s, there was concern that sunscreens themselves might be involved in the high incidence of skin cancer in Australia, so research examined the safety of commonly used UV filter actives [for any long-term negative effects]. The main one we investigated was the UVB absorber 2-ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, which after a decade of research, was found to [cause no issues of concern].
C&T: What has changed in sunscreen research in the past 25 years?
There is a much better understanding of the effects of long-term sun exposure. Skin cancer can have a latency of 25–30 years. Baby boomers were getting a lot of sun exposure and the results of that exposure were a surprise to people, [i.e., photoaging]. To stall the aging process, the use of sunscreen is an important aspect.
C&T: What has been one of the industry’s biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge I’ve seen as both a scientist and a human being is globalization and the information revolution. [So much information is available to people that it has undermined] their sense of capability to evaluate data. The tendency is to move toward authorities. [Individuals should seek original information] and draw their own conclusions. However, people often do not feel they are competent enough to evaluate the data, so they go to a second level of interpretation, which is a spin on [the original].