Neutrogena is touting Spectrum+ with a whopping SPF100 and Helioplex 360 “a new kind of sun protection.” Actually, Helioplex 360 has been around since 2005 and when I started digging around trying to understand what it is and what’s new about Spectrum+ I found that Neutragena and its Helioplex had wound up in court accused of false advertising. And I went down a few chemical and toxicological rabbit holes.

Helioplex 360’s sunscreen actives are avobenzone and oxybenzone. On its own, avobenzone, mostly operating in the UVA end of the spectrum, can only offer brief protection because it is chemically unstable when exposed to ultraviolet light. So it is often twinned with oxybenzone (this paring is by no means unique to Neutrogena), which is most effective at absorbing UVB sun rays, but can also offer minimal UVA protection. Better together, avobenzone and oxybenzone provide a broader spectrum of protection. But the big problem is that both of them are ultimately unstable, breaking down under UV light and their effectiveness doesn’t last long. This is where Neutrogena comes in with its patented stabilizer.

The only thing is that, according to testimony in court, Neutrogena had been claiming its 100+ products had Helioplex with the stabilizer when it was just plain old avobenzone and oxybenzone). It was only last year that Neutrogena added in the chemical that extends their performance - diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalate (sometimes called Corapan TQ) – and its products could truly be said to contain Helioplex.

Whether or not it is any good as stabilizer I can’t say. Although I did find one piece of research that concluded that a commonly used alternative is better.  Another stabilizer (although I don’t know if it is more or less effective) is Tinosorb, but is not yet available in the US.

But one hopes that it is because unstable sunscreens like oxybenzone are not just failing to protect from the sun, they are also potentially carcinogenic and absorbed by the body. Note that the CDC advises against using oxybenzone on children.

Then the more I looked at Helioplex’s stabilizer’s name - diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalate – the more I wondered if it was a phthalate – a broad class of chemicals, some of which are considered highly dangerous.

In Europe, starting in 2006, three phthalate esters – including di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), the highest volume phthalate – were permanently banned for use in toys, and another three types of phthalates – dibutyl phthalate (DBP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) – were banned from use in cosmetic products in Europe.

That last one looks a lot like our friend diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalate. But as far as I can tell, they are not one and the same and diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalate is one of the phthalates that are permitted for cosmetic use in Europe.

Active Ingredients: Avobenzone (3%), Homosalate (15%), Octisalate (5%), Octocrylene (10%), Oxybenzone (6%)

Inactive Ingredients: Water, Styrene Acrylates Copolymer, Silica, Diethylhexyl, 6 Naphthalate, Beeswax (Apis Mellifera), Caprylyl Methicone, Cetyl Dimethicone, Ethylhexyglycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG 100, Sodium Polyacrylate, Capryl Glycol, Acrylates/Stearate, Dimethicone, Xanthan Gum, TrimethylsiIoxysilicate, Disodium EDTA, Tanacetum Parthenium (Feverfew), Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate (Licorice Root), BHT, Trideceth 6, Tocopherol, Glycine Soja Soybean Seed Extract, Polyaminopropyl Biganide, Methylisoptiazolinone, Fragrance (Parfum)