Chemistry Is a Star Player in Student Athletics
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Updated October 15, 2021

Chemistry can help young athletes in more ways than you might think. The products of chemistry help create the sports equipment and clothing, as well as products like sunscreen and bug spray, that help kids stay safe while enjoying baseball, basketball, gymnastics, soccer and a host of other sports and activities.

Play it safe

Plastic helmets use innovative materials to protect athletes from injury. Helmet linings are made from expanded polystyrene in different densities and layers to absorb impact. Helmet shells are made with polycarbonate, which is durable, shatter-resistant and lightweight.

Chemistry Innovations to up Your Game

Textile chemistry is a highly specialized field that applies the principles of chemistry to the production of textiles.4 Textile chemistry helps create innovative fabrics that provide water repellency, moisture wicking and odor absorption. Innovations in textile chemistry include bioceramic fabric, hydrogel spider silk, carbon fiber and shear thickening fluid.

Other applications of chemistry in sports clothing, accessories and equipment include polyurethane that provides cushioning and stability in athletic shoes and nanotechnology used to make tennis rackets stiffer and lighter, giving athletes faster returns and more powerful serves.5  Fluorotechnology products offer performance properties to the outdoor industry such as breathable membranes and long-lasting water-repellent finishes.

Keeping the Bugs Away

Insect repellents are used to repel ticks, mosquitos and other biting insects and can help prevent kids from contracting diseases and viruses like Lyme disease6 when they’re outdoors on the athletic field.

The four most common compounds approved in the United States and Europe as insect repellent ingredients are DEET, icaridin (also known as picaridin), Citriodiol® and IR3535®. More information about these compounds can be found in this Compound Interest® infographic:

Insect repellents and DEET safety

Sunscreen Protection  

Sunscreens often include the active ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Titanium dioxide works well as a UV filtering ingredient, and zinc oxide can protect skin by deflecting the sun’s rays. Before an ingredient can be used in sunscreen, it must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 2019, FDA issued a proposed rule that describes updated proposed requirements for sunscreens.9

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and numerous federal agencies, health experts and organizations agree sunscreen is safe to use and can reduce the risk of skin cancer. FDA also states that “the risk of not using sunscreen is much greater than any potential risk posed by sunscreen ingredients.” Health experts also agree that sunscreen use in all four seasons is important and AAD provides answer to frequently asked questions about sunscreen.10

For more information about how chemistry helps students, visit these pages:

Six Ways Chemistry Helps Kids Get Back to School

Back-to-School Safety Tips during COVID-19

Keeping Lunch Cool:  The Chemistry of Lunch Boxes

Vaccine Ingredients and Safety: A Close-Up Look

Chemistry in Sports:  Textile Chemistry Innovations in Performance Apparel and Sports Equipment



1Heads Up | HEADS UP | CDC Injury Center

2Which Helmet for Which Activity? |

3Concussion Signs and Symptoms | HEADS UP | CDC Injury Center

4International Federation of Associations of Textile Chemists and Colourists

5National Nanotechnology Initiative –

6National Pesticide Information Center –



9FDA – OCOMM-SunscreenProposedLabelRules-Infographic_190220-1100 (

10AAD – Sunscreen FAQs (