Consumers are surrounded by warnings of the dangers contained in everything from baby shampoo to denture cream. Recently there has been growing concern over nanoparticles in sunscreens and mineral make up. Is there real danger here or is this just another overhyped story?
What Are Nanoparticles?
A nanoparticle is a piece of material so small that its size is measured in nanometers or billionths of a meter. As a comparison, a typical nanoparticle is approximately 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
The size of nanoparticles is their greatest asset and their greatest health risk. The human body is equipped with defenses designed to keep toxic substances out as they come into contact with our skin, lungs, and intestinal tract.
Nanoparticles are so small they can infiltrate the lungs and intestinal walls, giving the toxins free access to the body. There is some evidence that they may be absorbed directly through the skin as well but the results are inconclusive at this point.
Even non-toxic nanoparticles can cause problems. For example they can get into our lungs but are so small they are not easily cleared by normal mechanisms. This causes the lungs to be overburdened and have to work harder to breathe.
Where Are Nanoparticles Found?
Two common sources of nanoparticles today are sunscreens and mineral make up.
Ironically, nanoparticles used in sunscreen came about because of an effort to avoid toxic materials. Reports of the dangerous effects of benzophenone, homosalate and octyl-methoxycinnamate that some sunscreens use caused many consumers to return to the old-school products containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
However, many people didn’t like how these sunscreens looked and wanted something transparent. Manufacturers discovered that by dispersing the titanium dioxide as nanoparticles, it went on clear while still providing sun protection.
The use of nanoparticles in mineral make up was also an attempt to improve the appearance of the product. Pulverizing the minerals to nano-size gave the cosmetics a smoother, more glowing appearance. Consumers liked the change but didn’t realize there were associated health risks.
How Do You Avoid Nanoparticles?
Numerous research studies have showed the dangerous effects of nanoparticles and there is little doubt that they pose a significant health threat. A movement is underway to have the FDA regulate engineered nanoparticles much more rigorously. Until that time, consumers have to be smart shoppers.
When buying sunscreens that use metal oxides or mineral make up, look for products that don’t use nanoparticles or “micronized” particles. “Non-Micronized” particles are larger than nanoparticles so are safer. Titanium dioxide particles can also be coated with stearic acid to further prevent interaction of the mineral with the body.
Stick with mineral make up that uses titanium dioxide in cream form rather than powder form.
This prevents the particles from being absorbed through the skin or becoming airborne and getting into the lungs. If you are concerned about the health risks of nanoparticles, consider using one of the many great choices in natural and organic cosmetics that allow you to look great without risking your health.