How your choice of sunscreen could be damaging your car

How your choice of sunscreen could be damaging your car
How your choice of sunscreen could be damaging your car

Using high-factor sunscreen as well as certain hand creams and insect repellents could be bad for your car, according to scientists.

While strong sun creams help protect your skin from damage and premature ageing, experts at Ford’s research labs have revealed that they can have the opposite effect on a car’s interior materials.

The chemicals in strong sun protection products as well as those in some popular bug sprays and hand sanitisers have been found to react with the plastic surfaces inside cars, causing them to wear prematurely.

Growing problem

And with the market for products such as hand sanitising gels, sprays and wipes expected to rise 60 per cent in the next five years, Ford is warning that owners and car makers face a challenge in keeping cars looking good.

Read more: Summer driving essential tips

“From hand sanitisers to sun lotions to insect repellent, consumer trends are constantly changing, and new products are coming on to the market all the time,” said Mark Montgomery, senior materials engineer at Ford’s Materials Technology Centre. “Even the most innocuous seeming product can cause problems when they come into contact with surfaces hundreds and even thousands of times a year.”

Chemcials in hand sanitisers and sun cream can cause premature wear on cars’ interior surfaces. (Picture: Shutterstock)

Chemical reactions

The ethanol found in many hand cleaning products can cause damage to a car’s interior plastic, especially when combined with high temperatures.

Materials engineer Richard Kyle, materials engineer, explains: “There were instances of particularly high wear in Turkey and we managed to trace it back to ethanol potentially being a contributing factor, and most likely a popular hand sanitiser that contained 80 per cent ethanol – far higher than anything we’d seen before.”

Similarly, the higher levels of titanium oxide found in high-protection level sunscreen, and Diethyltoluamide, or DEET – the most common active ingredient in insect repellents – can react with plastics and the natural oils found in leather and cause premature ageing and damage.

The ethanol in hand sanitisers can react with the plastic touch points in cars. (Picture: Shutterstock)

Read more: Millions risk fine and driving ban for taking hay fever medication

To tackle the problems these new products present and create new protective coatings for plastics, Ford’s scientists test at temperatures that can in some cases reach 74°C – the temperature the inside of a car parked at the beach on a hot day might reach. In other tests they simulate extended exposure to the sun, with samples bombarded with ultra?violet light, equivalent to the brightest place on earth, for up to 1,152 hours (48 days).

They also test plastics for strength at temperatures as low as -30°C when they become most brittle, repeatedly bouncing a rubber ball that is ten times heavier than a regulation football to ensure the plastic doesn’t crack.

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