Should you stay away from nanotechnology in sunscreen?
Critics say that zinc oxide nanoparticles are so small, they’ll penetrate your skin and give you all kinds of nasty diseases.
The panic got so out of hand, the few brands that had started using this technology quickly backtracked. Now you’ll more easily find a needle in a haystack than a nano-based sunscreen at Sephora.
It’s a shame because science says they’re not as bad as they’re made out to be. Plus, they have a few properties that make these sunscreens more pleasant to use.
Here’s the truth about nanotechnology in sunscreen:
What Is Nanotechnology?
To cut a long story short, nanotechnology takes one large particle, like zinc oxide, and makes it super small.
Nano is short for nanometre. That’s one billionth of a metre or, in lay terms, about one thousandth of the thickness of hair. That’s how small these particles are.
No wonder people are scared these molecules can get through the skin, infiltrate the blood stream, and make you sick!
Why Is Nanotechnology Used In Sunscreen?
Ever wondered why so many sunscreens are so thick and greasy?
Blame it on Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. These white minerals protect you from both UVA and UVB rays without irritating your skin.
But their unpleasant texture leave a greasy sheen all over your skin…. and a white cast that makes you look like Caspar The Ghost. Ugh.
By making Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide much smaller, they literally become invisible. You know what that means? No more white cast! Yay!
Plus, their textures aren’t greasy anymore. You can pile on the layers without feeling like your skin is being suffocated.
Related: Is Zinc Oxide The Best UV Filter Ever?
How effective is your sunscreen? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Sunscreen Audit” Worksheet and find out if your sunscreen is really up to the job:
Is Nanotechnology In Sunscreen Dangerous?
Nanotechnology in sunscreen sounds awesome, right?
Not according to its critics. Here’s the deal: we know that normal-sized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are too big to penetrate the skin. They just sit on its surface, where they can’t cause any serious (think like cancer) side effects.
But, these much smaller sizes? Are they as harmless?
Well, some studies have found something worrying: these nanoparticles can produce free radicals, the molecules that damage DNA cells. Scary, right?
But, there’s a catch. They do this only when they penetrate past the outer dead layers of the skin and into the living cells.
This would also make them useless as sunscreens. UV filters must stay on top of the skin to work. How else could they stop those pesky UV rays from getting in and damaging your skin?
Can Nanoparticles Penetrate Skin?
Short answer: nope.
Current research is clear: nanoparticles remain on the surface of the skin and can’t reach the living cells.
But, if you’re really worried about free radicals, just use your sunscreen together with an antioxidant serum. That’ll destroy those free radicals before they can do any real harm.
Related: What Are The Best Antioxidant Serums?
The Real Problem With Nanoparticles In Sunscreen
Topical application of nonaparticles is safe. Inhalation is another matter entirely.
Studies done on rats show that, when inhaled, nanoparticles can damage animal lungs. I couldn’t find any studies on humans but, just to be on the safe side, don’t breathe this stuff in.
To recap: nano cream sunscreens = yay! Nano spray sunscreens = no way!
The Bottom Line
Nanoparticles in sunscreens are safe. Just avoid the spray kind.
Have you ever used sunscreens with nanoparticles? Share your thoughts in the comments below.