Get access

New noninvasive approach assessing in vivo sun protection factor (SPF) using diffuse reflectance spectroscopy (DRS) and in vitro transmission


  • Conflicts of interest:

    None declared.



In the past 56 years, many different in vitro methodologies have been developed and published to assess the sun protection factor (SPF) of products, but there is no method that has 1 : 1 correlation with in vivo measurements. Spectroscopic techniques have been used to noninvasively assess the UVA protection factor with good correlation to in vivo UVA-PF methodologies.

To assess the SPF of sunscreen product by diffuse reflectance spectroscopy (DRS) technique, it is necessary to also determine the absorbance spectrum of the test material in the UVB portion of the spectrum (290–320 nm). However, because of the high absorbance characteristics of the stratum corneum and epidermis, the human skin does not remit enough UVB radiation to be used to measure the absorption spectrum of the applied product on skin. In this work, we present a new method combining the evaluation of the absolute UVA absorption spectrum, as measured by DRS with the spectral absorbance ‘shape’ of the UVB absorbance of the test material as determined with current in vitro thin film spectroscopy.


The measurement of the in vivo UVA absorption spectrum involves the assessment of the remitted intensity of monochromatic UVA radiation (320–400 nm) before and after a sunscreen product was applied on skin using a spectrofluorimeter Fluorolog 3, FL3-22 (Yvon Horiba, Edison, NJ, USA). The probe geometry assures that light scattering products as well as colored products may be correctly assessed. This methodology has been extensively tested, validated, and reported in the literature.

The in vitro absorption spectrum of the sunscreen samples and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) films ‘surrogate’ sunscreen standards were measured using Labsphere® UV-2000S (Labsphere, North Sutton, NH, USA). Sunscreens samples were tested using PMMA Helioplates (Helioscience, Marseille, France) as substrates. The UVB absorbance spectrum (Labsphere) is ‘attached’ to the UVA absorbance spectrum (diffuse reflectance) with the UVB absorbance matched to the UVA absorbance at 340 nm to complete the full spectral absorbance from which an estimate the SPF of the product can be calculated.


Seventeen test materials with known in vivo SPF values were tested. Two of the tested products were PVC sunscreen thin films with 10–15 micrometers thickness and were used to investigate the absorption spectrum of these films when applied on different reflectance surfaces. Similar to the human in vivo SPF test, the developed methodology suggests limiting the use on Fitzpatrick skin phototypes I to III. The correlation of this new method with in vivo clinical SPF values was 0.98 (r2) with a slope of 1.007.


This new methodology provides a new approach to determine SPF values without the extensive UV irradiation procedures (and biological responses) currently used to establish sunscreen efficacy. Further work will be conducted to establish methods for evaluation of products that are not photostable.

Get access to the full text of this article