Nanoparticles might sound like the smaller (even tiny!) issue here, compared with the serious matter of protecting yourself from possible skin cancer with adequate sunscreen.
Here's why some people believe you need to worry about both the sun and the nanos. Some research shows that nanos release free radicals that are activated by UV exposure.
Here's what a March 2009 advisory from Friends of the Earth reports:
"Scientific studies have shown that nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide commonly used in sunscreens and cosmetics can produce free radicals, damage DNA and cause cell toxicity, especially when exposed to UV light. The concern is that rather than offering us sun protection, nanoparticles used in sunscreens and cosmetics could actually result in serious skin damage."
This is emerging science. But let's say it turns out to be true. Instead of protecting your epidermis from the damaging free radicals released when you get hit with natural UV rays, your sunscreen with nanoparticles could be compounding the skin damage.
Ouch. That stings worse than a sun burn.
Friends of the Earth Health and Environment Campaigner Ian Illuminato, who illuminated me on the potential dangers of nanoparticles in cosmetics, alerted us to this issue. (Note: the problem is not the titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, just their nano versions.)
But now for the good news!
FOE, made a list in August 2007 of the only ten companies that confirmed to FOE that they have kept nanoparticles out of their products. So if you are concerned about nanoparticles in sunscreens look to these brands (some make sunscreens, others make moisturizers with sun protection):
Chattem, Inc. — Bullfrog
Lakeview Laboratories — Tatoo Goo
Schwarzkopf & Henkel
Other sunscreens might also be nano-free - or not. Manufacturers typically don’t disclose which products contain nanoparticles (which are impressively tiny, with one nanometer being one-millionth of a millimeter).
The cosmetics industry uses nanoparticles in an array of products, including soaps, toothpaste, hair shampoos and conditioners, foundations, moisturizers and eye shadow. But none are subject to approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
New rules passed in the European Union in March require label disclosure of nanoparticles in cosmetics as well as mandating safety testing. (Look for the “EU compliant” notation on a beauty product.)
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