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Chemistry - The Effectiveness of Sunscreen?

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Hmm, someone suggested I started a topic about this, so I have.

I'm around that stage where we have to start thinking of ideas for Extended Essays. I think that I want to do mine in Chemistry and am really interested in investigating something like the effectiveness of sunscreen - whether it actually becomes less potent over time (as the pharmaceutical industry tells us) or not. At the moment it's really just a broad idea, but I was wondering if anyone had any opinions on it or could suggest a focussed way that I could approach the topic using a fairly simple method which could be done in a school laboratory?

I'm also not sure whether this might be one of those ambiguous topics that could fit into something like Physics (the absorption of UV rays??) as well. If so, should I steer clear?

Everyone's opinions would be much appreciated :P

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Remember your EE must be an original topic. Try googling it to make sure no one has written about this, as it seems, to me, to be a pretty big issue (expecially in Australia).

Next, think about how you are going to get information. You should be doing laboritory tests, so will have to find a method which will measure what you are looking for wwithout resulting in sunburn to yourself (i.e. No EE is worth skin cancer). If you can find a good method, and your topic is original (or nearly is) try narrowing it down to a specific point that is completely original. Remember that you need to be able to write about why what you are researching is important, so you don't want to narrow your topic down to say, the sunburn rate of carrots (or some other such superflous thing. By the by, do carrots sunburn?) You could investigate, for example, sunscreen effectiveness for humans as compared to animal sunscreening tacticts i.e. pigs role in mud to prevent sunburn et cetera. You could investigate traditional or herbal methods of sunscreening and see if they really work (again, how to test this without sunburning a human, I don't know). BE CREATIVE! Otherwise you may well bore yourself. If your lab work is fun to do, you will do it! Read the EE guide for more particulars. Good luck!

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I have googled it and it seems like no-one has done it before, which I suppose is a good thing, but may also suggest that it is too hard or too broad to attempt. I was researching methods with which I could test the effectiveness of sunscreen (because obviously, when pharmaceutical companies test their products they do not try it on themselves), and I think I have found quite a good way to do it - although it requires something called a UV spectrometer which I'm not sure school will have. Does anyone know if their schools have such equipment - ie. is it common?

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Sunscreen has for sure been done to death in regards to research.

It is all over google.

However testing the effectiveness of sunscreen is not an IB student's scope of study simply because we lack the foundation of knowledge to make such claims, and are limited to non-human studies.

So there goes any absorption methods, tanning analysis and human studies overall.

there are methods in your scope to test for ultraviolet absorption, but that is only of solutions I believe, and would not prove wise for any experiment of yours. That is, you cant just dissolve the sunscreen into the water. In a way you almost could though. It would be a way of analyzing how different sunscreens absorb ultraviolet in a methodology focusing some type of discipline of water.

however, beware! Simply testing commercial products is not a good way to do an EE !

With these topics you ignore science discipline. For example, all you would report with sunscreen is which one was better. A dermatologist would reference the chemicals in the sunscreen, with special emhpasis on the active ingredient.

You dont have the knowledge or space to write about this.

Here is a good and bad topic for commercial products for EE:

1. Do different red jellies use the same red dye? (IB produced topic) - good

2. Bad - sunscreen in your case, or any commerical product that doesnt account for scientific discipline.

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Hm, so you're suggesting to leave this topic and think of something else?

I wasn't really intending to look at which sunscreen is better. I was more thinking along the lines of seeing how it was affected over time, ie. does it let more UV in after its "expiry" date or not?

I don't know, I was talking to someone who works in a company that produces sunscreen and they told me that all the expiry dates on the bottles of sunscreen were technically incorrect, as the active ingredient is really stable. I just wanted to see if that was true.

And yes, there is a method by which you can dissolve sunscreen - that's the one I was talking about.

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I personally say to stay away from it.

The person who you talked to has knowledge of organic chemistry and complex dermatology that could be synthesized in 4,000 words. By your attempt, it would be a misguided paper that lacked focus.

Testing anything about experiment date is still the same. You have to understand, you must have scientific discipline.

what does that mean?

It mean you have scope of the experiment. For instance, my teacher explained this to me during G4.

I was analysis water qualities. You cant just say, Chlorine was concentrated at 5.0 ppm which burned the fish gills of the catfish. No. you havent looked at the gills under the microscope, so making these generalizations is not important.

A much better thing to say would be the catfish surfaced 12 times within 2 min, and then finding a study that says that cat fish surface more frequently in high chlorine levels. That would be a better assumption.

I say ditch the topic and find a discipline much better. You may still use ultraviolet light, maybe produced with an bought system from a store, and analyze a different aspect..perhaps something with plants or so.

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Alrighty, thanks. I think you've pretty much convinced me not to do it! :blum:

What about something like whether there is a difference between generic and brand drugs? It's a tentative topic area, but any opinions?

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I believe that can be fine, but you'd need to take a look at your approach as the #1 thing. You need to have an experiment in there which is directly quantifiable - for instance you can do generic versus brand antacids by titrating. The titration will be more or less the centre of your experiment. Obvously a topic like that would be very simple and overdone (and you also assume there are differences to begin with) but what you'd need is a tight topic with very specific outcomes. In other words, you'd have to find a drug where you can quantitatively test its effects, or a particular aspect of its creation in an experiment. Might be hard to do - especially as I believe they're all actually very, very similar, these things. There are only a certain number of ways to efficiently synthesise them for industry, after all!

All in all, if you can find the right drug and keep your topic workable as well as tight, I think it's a good one. If you can't, don't start out with any sort of inadequacy as it'll ruin the whole EE. Your topic needs to be watertight before you stat it :blum:

The best thing to do with this sort of topic is along the lines of "is there more X in Y than there is X in Z?" and devise an experiment to measure the amount of X.

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Sorry that topic Jennifer is better ,but still not there, almost there.

A good topic on something similar to drugs (so I don't hand a topic directly) is something like amount of vitamin C found in aging oranges. If I do remember correctly its different as time goes on, so you would do something like looking at titration (good idea above) of vitamin C over the days. Of course this is not a good topic for you because you would be looking at growing oranges (buying them means you have no idea how old they are and would fail to be a good topic_. SO I tried to give you a good example of something you could not do.

Like said above you must have quantified data (and qualitative is very very important as well!)

It has to be very specific.

Here is a specific example you could never do cause its too complicated, but would be along the lines of appropriate research for a scientist:

How does water salinity effect the mobility of a giant squid.

What volume to surface area ratio of a human cell best aid in transport in Iron II.

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I honestly think that the first idea you had about the potency of sunscreen would be good for a Chemistry EE. Everyone seems to have read your research question wrong, and assumed that you will be comparing different brands of sunscreen. You would definitely be able to come up with experiments to test the key ingredients' stability (you could pick two types of sunscreen, one with titanium dioxide as its key ingredient and another with something else). I know there are at least 2 different key ingredients because I'm allergic to one of them. And finding bottles of sunscreen manufactured on different dates wouldn't be difficult. If you have a good knowledge of Chemistry and are prepared to spend time working out the different equations, go ahead. The topic is by no means overdone (maybe sunscreen in general has by the medical world, but how many doctors does anyone know that are writing EE's right now?) And who has read a thesis about how the pharmaceutical claims that sunscreen has an expiry date are false? No one I've ever heard of, so your EE sounds very original.

Hopefully you'll be able to find a UV spectrometer somewhere (if there is a university in your city, you could try to find out if youi'd be able to use that, or one in any other research lab. Under supervision, of course).

And yes, if you want to do something with UV absorption then it would be Physics-related and not Chemistry.

Here is a specific example you could never do cause its too complicated, but would be along the lines of appropriate research for a scientist:

How does water salinity effect the mobility of a giant squid.

What volume to surface area ratio of a human cell best aid in transport in Iron II.

Where the heck would a scientist find a giant squid for his tests either, they're so rare that the last time there was a sighting BBC reported it. Quite a ridiculous example.

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I am sorry you misunderstood what I was trying to say. I actually was trying to stay away from handing people topics. It is the idea that you missed. Mobility effected by salinity. That is all I wanted them to take away, and if needed pursue this on their own without me telling them right off the bat what to do.

I am not sure what you meant by, "How many doctors do you know that are doing an EE?" Did you mean to say that it was a relevant topic despite the heavy research that can be googled?

Simply noting active ingredients in tests is not of appropriate science topics. anyone here who has gone on to independent research with a professor will tell you that just cannot neglect the vast amount of ingredients involved in items. For example, here is a really great example. Students in my school for bio IA, without consulting my teacher, decided on a topic and signed up for it on the wall by posting "what effect do different concentrations of [active ingredient] have on the metabolic rate of Daphnia?" (metabolic rate is amount of times they swim per minute, or flap their little swimming structures). What you are saying by this statement is that you have only tested a pure ingredient of (100%) that active ingredient. While in fact on the bottle it will read anywhere from 5% - 60% active ingredient.

Here I will show you even using a sunscreen from my house.

Active ingredient: Homosalate 10% + Oxybenzone 6%

Right? You think now let me go ahead and test... Now please account for "stability" of compounds and overall effectiveness (meaning here capable of absorbing or blocking ultraviolet light). Here are some of your variables that you should consider:

1. Avobenzone 3%

2. Octocrylene 2.8%

3. Octisilate 5%

4. Ascorbic acid

5. Behynyl alcohol

6. BHT

7. Butylenes glycol

8. Butyloctyl salicylate

9. Caprylyl methicone

10. Diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalate

11. Dimethicone

12. Disodium EDTA

13. Ethylhexyl stearate

14. Ethylhexylglycerin

15. Ethylparaben

16. Fragarance ( Not even told what it is, the organic compound, that is responsible for their trademarkated scent)

17. Glyceryl stearate

18. Glycine soja (soybean) protein

19. Methylparaben

20. PEG-100 stearate

21. Phenoxyethanol

22. Propylparaben

23. Silica

24. Sodium polyacrylate

25. Strene/acrylates copolymer

26. Tocopheryl acetate

27. Trideceth-6

28. Trimethylsiloxysilicate

29. VP/hexadacene copolymer

30. Water

31. Xanthan gum

Now..that is off a small bottle of Aveeno sunblock. Could you imagine trying to tell a chemist somewhere around the world, that you attributed stability of a compound or found anything remotely definite about your research based upon only what in this case would have been 16% of an ingredient. They would laugh and knock away at points in focus + more.

Stability or anything testing these compounds? Well as a chemist, and according to the list of ingredients, one involved in organic chemistry you would be analyzing the functional groups and seeing how they react with ultraviolet light. Then using what you have studied for years, you would synthesize a report based on areas of concern and put forth ideas about how if a (this is an example based upon no actual analysis of the ingredients) dehydrogenation reaction was to occur by introducing this product, you would stabilize the bond structure of this compound and disperse the electrons in this in order to form an aromatic carbon (common thing in organic chemistry is to find areas where electrons can be used so that their concentration decreases, or in other words break double or triple bonds).

the topic..even for grad students would be a difficult one, and ultimately you would be looking at ordering these compounds and then testing them at the temperatures exposed to normal sun (to have logic in saying that anything is affective, you must meet air pressure, temperature and other controls in order to say that a comparison between two compounds that are isolated is there).

here is another thing you must do. It is a phenomenon not yet explained, but is always treated with attention.

Consider the following: synthesized amounts of vitamins (lets use B12 vitamin), do not offer the same type of support or use as those introduced by normal fruits. That is to say that a fruit which makes B12 vitamins and that is eaten, is more effectively used by the human cell than those compounds put under polymers and organic reactions. Why is that? not important here. What am I trying to tell you? You must now mention and give insight to the fact that your active ingredients were treated under isolated conditions, without the interaction of the other 30 ingredients, and then you might go on to say that definitely you know in the presence of this that happens.

Why is that important? Because some compounds, lets use for an example,Diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalate are no longer those names. They are lsited as such maybe due to the fact that once introduced to the mixture you form Diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalate. Isolated it might not be s extractable, and if so, the bonds might change and the name now could be something different.

My point is, I am not just saying all these random things, but this is what a scientist will look at. Are we scientist? No, but if you are sending your report to one then dont regret the fact that a professor might see your report as totally off and lacking focus in certain areas. I have done independent research, and anyone here who has also, will tell you that professors will not accredit any study if large variables are present. They will refuse to place their name on papers that will go on and on about what could have happened and other crap. What they want to see for IB, is that you Can do focused research. That is, the overall innuendo of the guide for G4 says..simplicity. You take what you have, and you run with it to the end. If your lab is concerning titration, you explain the equivalence point and everything about it to the point of no more in order to get that high grade. This is what Ib wants to see, that you did something and took it to that level.

Best of luck, and I hope I helped you out. You definitely want to be able ot go into undergrad and say, look I did this really interesting and unique experiment and this is what I found. Then you might get started on research right away. If you did something like sunscreen, the grad student you are working under might polity reject your desire to work for them and take someone who for example did something like "different concentration of a specific chemical in mushrooms" (this was Irene's EE for chemistry that had focus as a topic, and received an A).

Edited by biochem
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Alright.. Okay, how about this? How sunlight/heat/other variable affects the vitamin C content in anti aging creams.

It's so difficult thinking up a suitable topic.

Edited by Jennifer

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Do you know how you're going to measure it? That's the big thing with these sorts of essays - making sure the scientific method is sound :(

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Stay away from store bought stuff, that seems to be the problem :(

Home about Vitamin C, under those conditions, from a high vitamin C food. Natural one maybe, like a certain fruit?

I cant remember where. But I read a study..and I Sear it was from an IO guide. It said something about watching effects of some carbon compound under different elevations, regarding the ultraviolet light. I just remember looking at i, and thinking what a wonderful topic, but ever-so complex. It was something about Carbon and ultraviolet light. If I remember will tell you! Cause if it was a give an example by IBO, you can see wonderful way of how they would want something ultraviolet related done.

and like Sandwich said, its the how that gets everyone. They theory of things is so nice, but now its actually testing feasible results. I ran into the same problem as you. My biology EE is done, but I was trying to do an experiment for upcoming IAs in chem/bio for Ferrichrome. Its a substance that captures Iron III, turns it into Iron II, and passes it into our cell membrane. Its a way of the body meeting its iron need. So interesting right!? But not at all testable :P

And a good tip - dont try to make it complex. I used to have problems performing easy experiments because I felt like I fell down a level. Not true. It is the simplicity of things with the correct analysis (and conclusion) that will give you an A above anyone else.

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I wanted to stay away from fruits because it seems that so many people have done all types of fruits and vegies at our school in the past, and extended essays involving fruits are all over the internet, and it seems pretty boring just to copy them all and choose a fruit as well, you know?

I have done a bit of research and have a pretty good idea of how I would do it - as long as the vitamic c formulation can dissolve in water or something, it will be possible to do a titration and work out the concentration. It wouldn't be too complicated an experiment either, and would just involve alot of time in repeating the titration over and over, and setting it out so there is certain amount of sunlight. Also, I thought it would be quite relevant because people are putting this stuff on their skin and then exposing themselves to sunlight. With Vit C being so light/heat sensitive, something must be happening to the cream/lotion etc.

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