Consumer Reports: Why Are Companies Lying About Putting Nanoparticles In Your Sunscreen?

Little is known about how nanoparticles — ultra-small particles that are so teeny that they can have different physical properties than “macro” sized particles. For example, says Consumer Reports, carbon becomes 100 times stronger than steel, aluminum turns highly explosive, and gold melts at room temperature. What do titanium dioxide or zinc oxide do? Well, whatever it is — it may be in your sunscreen without your knowledge.

Consumer Reports tested 5 sunscreens that claimed not to contain nanoparticles — and only one was actually nanoparticle-free.

Four of them, all labeled natural or organic, actually did contain nanoparticles: Aubrey Organics Natural Sun SPF 25 Green Tea Protective Sunscreen, Badger SPF 30 Sunscreen, Kiss My Face SPF 30+ Sun Screen with oat protein complex and Mexitan SPF 30 Sunscreen. Only one product—Zinka Colored Nosecoat—turned out to be actually free of the
particles.

Companies put nanoparticles in sunscreens because it makes them clear, rather than opaque, which consumers tend to prefer. Consumers Union, the organization that publishes CR, is asking the FDA to require a full safety assessment on the use of engineered nanoparticles particularly in cosmetics, sunscreens and sunblocks, and to investigate possible enforcement action to ensure accurate labeling as to the presence or absence of nanoparticles.

They also cite animal studies that suggest that titanium dioxide nanoparticles can damage the lungs. The effect of absorbing these particles through the skin is unknown.

Consumers Union’s Letter To the FDA [CU]
No Nano sunscreens? [CR]

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  1. Ihaveasmartpuppy says:

    They are also in many types and brands of makeup. But since we’re usually not inhaling our sunscreens and makeup, I’ll take the risk of nanoparticle damage over a higher risk of skin cancer. I’ve had several close calls and must wear sunscreen every single day.

    • SunnyLea says:

      @Ihaveasmartpuppy: Scary. I’m rather hoping there aren’t any in my makeup. Since I use powder with a brush, I inadvertently inhale my makeup all the time.

      I tried searching for info on the brand (Bare Naturale) and the nanoparticles, but came up empty handed.

    • karmaghost says:

      @Ihaveasmartpuppy: I think the point, though, is that until we know the implications of what nanoparticles do, we should have a choice of whether our lotion has them or not. I don’t think CR is suggesting we stop using lotions altogether.

      Sounds like nanoparticles could potentially become the 21st century version of asbestos.

      • mariospants says:

        @karmaghost: I hope not: nanoparticles have the potential to change the way the world works while asbestos had us change the way we insulated against flames.

        Well, once we replace our bodies with robotic avatars, I think things like “now contains lead” will be a positive thing.

    • CFinWV says:

      @Ihaveasmartpuppy: While you’re not inhaling or ingesting sunscreen keep in mind that your skin absorbs whatever it comes into contact with. I think if you’re in the sun a lot you might want to keep this in mind, but for once in a while use I’m not going to toss my Badger Balm sunscreen.

      If you have sunscreen in your facial moisturizer or your foundation and you wear it every day that would definitely be something to worry about. At least until we know what this stuff does. Lead used to be in certain cosmetics and that was definitely harmful.

  2. henrygates says:

    What are people thinking when they decide, “hey, lets put some of this stuff into our product having no idea what it will do to people so that our product will be clear instead of opaque.”

    • Skankingmike says:

      @henrygates: Its called progess i think…

    • Skipweasel says:

      @henrygates: They’re thinking like bankers did… “We don’t understand what will happen if we do this, but it’ll make us plenty of money till we find out.”

    • Kay Bee says:

      @henrygates: There’s no need for orange coloring in cheese (cheese is made from milk!), or yellow coloring in whole chickens (chicken’s a white meat). Personally, I reach for the white aged vermont cheddar and eat my farm fresh chickens, but coloring isn’t nearly as dangerous as [semi] toxic heavy metals

  3. nicemarmot617 says:

    It makes them clear? I’ve never seen clear sunscreen.

  4. Gokuhouse says:

    Some people have blamed sunscreens for causing cancer. Is it the sunscreen doing the damage instead of the sunshine like people think? Do sun rays have any effect on these nanoparticles that causes them to adversely react and damage skin?

  5. FLConsumer says:

    titanium dioxide is used in just about everything to make it white. If something’s got that ultra-bright white look to it, whether it’s your new ipod, sunscreen, or the icing on your cake, 99% chance it’s titanium dioxide.

    • tevetorbes says:

      @FLConsumer:

      FWIW, IAC (I am a chemist).

      Very true for titanium dioxide. However, titanium dioxide nanoparticles (like the ones found in the sunscreen above) are colorless and absorb UV light (hence their prevalence in UV-blocking sunscreen).

      Also, as an inorganic compound, they do not penetrate the skin, which is why they are preferred over organic molecules that also absorb UV light (these can be absorbed through the skin). The nanoparticles, however, can enter your body through broken skin, and this is of course some cause for concern.

  6. laserjobs says:

    I don’t use sunscreen unless I am going to be in the sun for hours unprotected. Vitamin D absorption is very important in preventing cancers. Overuse of sunscreen is most likely doing way more damage to people than the sun.

    • tande04 says:

      @laserjobs: Seems to be the way of everything these days.

      Is the lack of vitamin D worse then the risk of skin cancer? Is the chance of side effects worth the vaccine? A low carb diet worth the possible heart damage?

      Its an each their own thing in the end. Weigh what you believe and follow it. I’m the exact opposite of you. I’ll put it on regardless because I can supliment vitamin D so many ways.

      • laserjobs says:

        @tande04: Vitamin D supplements do not seem to do the same as getting a modest amount of sun. As I said I am not against sunscreen when it is used when exposed to sun for extended periods of time. I think anyone can agree 10-20 min of sun sure makes you feel good.

        • Amy Alkon says:

          @laserjobs:

          Vitamin D supplements do not seem to do the same as getting a modest amount of sun.

          And you know this because…? So…you’re an internationally respected epidemiologist and biostatician, and read all the studies on this, and are able discern good study methodology from bad, etc., or…you heard this from a friend?

          There are different forms of Vitamin D. And nothing is the same as something else. The question is, weighing all the various risks, are you protecting yourself more than you are putting yourself at risk? Are you replacing the Vitamin D of the sun with adequate Vitamin D from a source that can be assimilated by the human body? And does the Vitamin D you are taking bring unwelcome side effects, such as a nice, big mercury shot?

          Check out IFOS for mercury levels in fish oil caps:

          [www.nutrasource.ca]

      • este says:

        @tande04:

        Easy answer to that.

        Everything in Moderation. Sun, Drugs, Food, Sex, Politics, Religion, etc etc etc

  7. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Even makeup with 15 SPF is fine unless you intend on sitting out in the sun for a few hours, then you need something stronger. I don’t use sunscreen unless I know I’ll be outdoors for a significant amount of time.

    I think makeup with 15 SPF is more or less just to ease the fears of some people. 15 SPF isn’t going to protect you at the beach, but it’s okay for makeup if you’re going from your house to your car to your office.

    • shepd says:

      @IHaveAFreezeRay:

      The SPF curve is logarithmic. The law of diminishing returns with such a scale kicks in around 15 SPF, going above that provides so little extra benefit, it’s only worth it if there is no extra cost.

      Sorry to burst the bubble, although it means I usually end up getting very cheap sunscreen at the end of the year because nobody buys the 15 SPF.

      [daily.stanford.edu]

  8. Skankingmike says:

    I bet it’s fine. I mean they would never put something in our products to hurt their consumers right??

  9. angelcake88 says:

    I know that Coppertone made an Oil Free clear sunscreen a few years ago and then moved it into their sport line. Neutrogena also has a clear one. They both smell of alchohol though and were irritating. I guess its a good thing I stopped using these.

    Although now I’m worried about my normal sunscreen which is white.

  10. Outrun1986 says:

    I don’t think I use sunscreen enough to worry about this as I apply it 2-3 times a year at most and only when I am going to be out for a long time.

    I have used coppertone’s spray and it works very well, its not totally clear though as there is a slightly white tint to it especially after it dries without rubbing it in.

  11. centraal says:

    There are all kinds of interesting additives in most sunscreens. I use the Environmental Working Group list to pick mine:
    [cosmeticsdatabase.com]

    • oneandone says:

      @centraal: I love that database! It’s a bit depressing, but I feel like I’m making more informed choices – and it’s cut down on the amount of makeup I buy & wear.

  12. Carbonic says:

    just wear an umbrella hat, no nano particles in an umbrella hat! yet…..

  13. no.no.notorious says:

    oh man sunscreen is something i’ve never trusted

    luckily i’ve also got a natural tan, so it’s something i forget some people have to do to themselves

  14. P1h3r1e3d13 says:

    I should like to know what defines a “nanoparticle.”
    A molecule is a particle on the nanometer scale; I hope nobody is worried about the presence of molecules in their sunscreen.

    Also, titanium oxide has been used in sunscreen since forever and it’s there to reflect light.

    Consumerist articles are generally very well-researched and well-explained. Please do not become an alarmist pseudoscience outlet.

    • mariospants says:

      @P1h3r1e3d13: While companies are required to research and test these products anyway, people seem to be freaking out without understanding the facts again. If I recall, the average American believed that the ban on human cloning was justified on the belief that scientists could literally create a full-size copy of a person using the technology. Besides the fact that nobody would want a copy of the average American (i.e. you and me), it’s distressing how much of people’s scientific agenda is guided by movies and television shows.

      Back to nanoparticles, people are getting this perception that somehow nanoparticles are small enough to “slide through the intermolecular gaps in our skin” or something. While they can probably fit into our pores and glands, the exposure would be miniscule because:

      a) most of the particles are on the skin doing what they’re supposed to do;
      b) those “ports of entry” in our skin are designed as basically one-way-doors with excretions to keep stuff going out rather than in; and
      c) the amount of particles that could potentially make it in are probably insignificant in both number and propensity to cause danger.

      Of course, ANY small particles you inhale will cause problems. Inhaling plaster or spray paint dust is equally hazardous.

  15. Anonymous says:

    For what it’s worth, these nanoparticles are still the same old zinc oxide and titanium oxide that have been around for years. The only difference is that when the particle size drops to 20-30 nanometers, their absorption spectrum shifts into the UV. By tuning the particle size, one can make a very effective UV blocker that’s completely clear in the visual spectrum.

    While more research may be needed on any long-term effects of nanoparticles on the human body, these are still the same chemicals that have been in sunscreen for a long time, just in smaller pieces.

  16. Mary Marsala with Fries says:

    I wanted a new kind of makeup — that “mineral” stuff that seemed like a good idea when it came out — but all of its cool properties turned out to be based on nanoparticles. Sure, the substances themselves were tested, but not in sizes small enough to penetrate the skin and possibly enter the bloodstream, which is a big issue regarding nanoparticles.

    I figure, I can wait however long it takes them to test the stuff before I buy it. I’m not going to PAY to be anybody’s guinea pig…they want to test on me, they can pay ME.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hello,

    Nobody lied. When Consumer Reports called and asked, our telephone customer service person answered, “No. Our sunscreens containm micronized zinc.” They should have said , “Yes.Our sunscreens contain micrionized zinc.” Same stuff. I assume the other company phone reps answered the question honestly and to the best of their ability. By the way, the Badger SPF is rated the number 5 safest sunscreen in the world, out of 951 national and international brands including both suncreens that contain nano-size particles of zinc and those that don’t. http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/sunscreens2008/findyoursunscreen.php
    Yes, our sunscreen contains nano-sized zinc. We made it this way because we feel it makes the safest sunscreen for our kids. We came to this conclusion after serious study of all the options. Check out EWG.org web site commentary on the nano-size particles used in sunscreens and see what you think!
    http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/special/sunscreens2008/summary.php Thank you, Bill (Badger Company – Head Badger)