Nano zinc oxide Sunscreen

Sunscreens made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide generally score well in EWG’s ratings because:

  • they provide strong sun protection with few health concerns;
  • they don’t break down in the sun;
  • zinc oxide offers good protection from UVA rays – titanium oxide less so, but better than most other active ingredients.

Nanoparticles in American sunscreens are either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

Zinc oxide is EWG’s first choice for sun protection. It is stable in sunlight and can provide greater protection from UVA rays than titanium oxide or any other sunscreen chemical approved in the U.S. (Schlossman 2005). Years ago, zinc oxide sunscreens, often seen on lifeguards’ noses, were famously white and chalky. Today, sunscreen makers use zinc oxide nanoparticles to formulate lotions with less white tint.

A number of companies sell products advertised as “non-nano” titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These claims are generally misleading. While particle sizes vary among manufacturers, nearly all would be considered nanomaterials under a broad definition of the term, including the definition proposed in 2011 by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA 2011b). For example Antaria, a popular supplier of zinc oxide, initially claimed it was selling a “non-nano” form to sunscreen makers. But under pressure from Friends of the Earth, Australia, it acknowledged that its zinc oxide would be considered a nanomaterial requiring special labeling in Europe (Antaria 2012, Friends of the Earth 2012). There is even less dispute about titanium dioxide. According to the available information, it must be delivered in nanoparticle form to render a sunscreen reasonably transparent on the skin.

The use of nanoparticles in cosmetics poses a regulatory challenge because the properties of nanoparticles may vary tremendously, depending on their size, shape, surface area and coatings. We don’t know everything we would like to know about their performance because manufacturers are not required to disclose the qualities of the particles used in their sunscreens.

More research and more specific FDA guidelines are essential to reduce the risk and maximize the sun protection of mineral sunscreens. Yet even with the existing uncertainties, we believe that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are among the best choices on the American market.

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