Sunscreens made with nanoparticles may cause serious bodily harm, a report from Friends of the Earth has warned.
“Consumers need to know that manufactured nanoscale zinc and titanium oxides are not the only choice and are not necessarily the most effective or safest choice for sun protection,” the report reads.
Many sunscreens now contain nanoscale particles of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, roughly 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. The only reason for using nanotechnology is to make the sunscreens less oily and easier to rub into the skin.
Although titanium dioxide and zinc oxide have long been used in sunscreens and are considered relatively safe, the normal rules no longer apply to matter on the nano scale.
In its report, Friends of the Earth cites six recent studies indicating that zinc oxide nanoparticles can penetrate healthy human skin to reach the blood and urine, kill brain stem cells in mice, and destroy colon cells in even minute concentrations. They also cite studies finding that nanoscale titanium dioxide can produce gene changes in pregnant mice and has been linked to Alzheimer’s, autism and epilepsy. All nanoparticles are also capable of crossing the placental barrier between mother and fetus.
Although a number of European governments have begun passing regulations mandating labeling, testing and even bans on some nanoparticles, particularly in cosmetics, the industry remains completely unregulated in the United States.
“Nanosunscreens have the potential to cause serious human and environmental harm, but there is nothing stopping companies from selling them,” the report says.
To make matters worse, a recent report by the Consumers Union found that even among sunscreens claiming to be nano-free, 80 percent still contained nanoparticles.
“These nanomaterials are being added without appropriate labeling or reliable safety information, so the public has no way of making informed purchasing choices,” said Ian Illuminato, senior health researcher for Friends of the Earth.
Unfortunately for consumers seeking to protect their health, the majority of sunscreens not made with titanium or zinc oxides are also made with known carcinogens.