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Nanoparticles in Sunscreen: What They Are & How to Avoid Them

Last summer, there was a lot of talk of nanoparticles after the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and other consumer advocacy groups questioned their safety. Nanoparticles – specifically, those found in sunscreens – are ultra-small particles of zinc and titanium dioxide. Making the particles so small ensures that sunscreen goes on clear instead of remaining opaque, but comprehensive studies had never been done on their potential toxicity and the extent to which they’re absorbed into the skin.

The EWG has since concluded that nanoparticles of zinc and titanium don’t penetrate the skin enough to pose a potential hazard, and their list of recommended sunscreens doesn’t take nanoparticles into account. But, if you want to be on the safe side just in case, you can still avoid nanoparticles in sunscreen. Model Angela Lindvall explains how below:

So, all you have to do is check the ingredient list for ‘nano’, ‘ultrafine’, and also another one not mentioned in the video, ‘micronized’. If your sunscreen doesn’t contain any mention of those, you’re probably in the clear. You can also tell by whether your sunscreen goes on clear or stays white after you apply it. Remember that the biggest sunscreen safety hazards aren’t related to nanoparticles – they’re chemicals, which are not only absorbed by the skin and end up in the blood and organs but aren’t as effective. So, stick with titanium dioxide and zinc.

A few nanoparticle-free sunscreens are Avalon Organics Natural Mineral Sunscreen (SPF 18), Alba Mineral Sunscreens and Lavera SPF 40+ Neutral Sun Block.

For a full explanation of nanoparticles and how the Environmental Working Group rated the sunscreens in their report, see their nanotechnology summary.

Stephanie Rogers is a fashion- and beauty-obsessed freelance writer with an abiding love for kale and organic wine, living in Asheville, North Carolina.