Photoprotection: extending lessons learned from studying natural sunscreens to the design of artificial sunscreen constituents
Evolution has ensured that plants and animals have developed effective protection mechanisms against the potentially harmful effects of incident ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Tanning is one such mechanism in humans, but tanning only occurs post-exposure to UVR. Hence, there is ever growing use of commercial sunscreens to pre-empt overexposure to UVR. Key requirements for any chemical filter molecule used in such a photoprotective capacity include a large absorption cross-section in the UV-A and UV-B spectral regions and the availability of one or more mechanisms whereby the absorbed photon energy can be dissipated without loss of the molecular integrity of the chemical filter. Here we summarise recent experimental (mostly ultrafast pump–probe spectroscopy studies) and computational progress towards unravelling various excited state decay mechanisms that afford the necessary photostability in chemical filters found in nature and those used in commercial sunscreens. We also outline ways in which a better understanding of the photophysics and photochemistry of sunscreen molecules selected by nature could aid the design of new and improved commercial sunscreen formulations.