In Part I of learning about safer sunscreens, we shared the latest findings on sunscreen safety from EWG (Environmental Working Group) and they are surprising! Most of the points listed in their article about ‘surprising truths‘ don’t need further explanation, but here is one that I’ve always struggled to understand. It’s the topic of nanoparticles and mineral (organic) sunscreens. We learned from Part I of this series that not every sunscreen (chemical sunscreen or organic sunscreen) is safe to be using, however it’s the mineral (organic) sunscreens made with zinc or titanium that receive the highest ratings for safety each year from EWG. My thanks to Gwen, owner of Nayla Natural Care for taking the time to write this great article on mineral sunscreen and the issue of nanoparticles. Take it away Gwen!
What is zinc oxide and titanium dioxide?
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are natural minerals found in the earth. Both have many uses such as ingredients in paints, foods, vitamins, cosmetics, and of course sun block. The reason why these minerals are used in sun blocks is that they have remarkable properties that give them the ability to reflect light and this is exactly what we want our sun block to do. Both of these minerals are excellent choices for sun protection because they both provide broad UVA and UVB protection.
What are nanoparticles?
Defined, a nanoparticle is a solid particle measuring between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is equivalent to a billionth of a meter. Manufacturers using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide must break down the natural particles before adding them to the sunscreen. If they didn’t, the particles would remain large and your sunscreen would go onto your skin as a thick and very white paste. Think of the pictures of lifeguards with thick white strips of sun block on their noses and ears. Not the most visually appealing look right? To lessen this “white” look, natural sunscreen manufacturers use a process called micronization. Micronization is the process that breaks down the particles so they are smaller and will give the sunscreen that more appealing look once applied. Natural sunscreens will still leave a whitish tinge to the skin, but because of micronization, you will not look like the lifeguards. =)
Some sunscreen manufacturers such as Thinksport, Thinkbaby and TruKid do not use nanoparticles in their sun blocks (but use micronization). The zinc oxide and titanium dioxide particle sizes in these formulas are greater than 100nm. Badger uses particles that range from 70nm to 300nm in size, so yes, a small fraction of their zinc oxide is made up of nanoparticles, but they assure that the nanoparticles in their formulas are safe. Badger also uses a special coating process on all of their zinc oxide particles that makes the zinc oxide “less likely to generate free radicals and will be less reactive with the skin than uncoated zinc oxide.” For more information on Badger’s stance on nanoparticles and to learn all about the coating process they use, please click here.
How will I know if my sunscreen contains particles that fall within the “safe range”?
The best way to know is to visit the sun block manufacturer’s website. Most manufacturers will post the nanoparticle info in the FAQ section like Badger has done. If you cannot find the info on the company website, contact them by email or by phone. If you are buying from a retailer, contact the retailer and ask them the questions you want answered before purchasing your sunscreen. You want to be sure that you are buying the best and safest thing for your family, so spend the time doing the homework and be confident in your purchase.