Are Some Sunscreens Unsafe?

Many sunscreens that rely on physical UV filters include nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The benefits of these extra-small particles include less white film, and according to some manufacturers, higher effectiveness. However, an environmental group is sounding an alarm about the harm they could cause.

Friends of the Earth not only disputes supplier claims that nanoparticles are more effective, they also say that they have the potential to cause health problems because "nanomaterials have much greater access to vulnerable organs and tissues."

There is limited but compelling research to support FOE's concerns, mostly on animals, showing that particles have entered the brains and lungs through topical application or by being breathed in. And now, Ireland's Biomedical Sciences Institute will examine common sunscreen nanoparticles' effect on humans.

A group of university scientists from throughout the UK will look specifically at the link between these nanoparticles and brain diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. If their research shows that penetration is indeed possible, it could lead to more rigorous pre-market testing of applicable products.

Even if you choose to refrain from using physical sunscreens with nanoparticles, there's no reason to skip out on UV defense altogether. There are other types of sunscreens, including chemical-based formulas, that can provide the protection you need on a daily basis.