Monday, May 21, 2012

Introducing the Nature of Beauty's Sunscreen Safety Series

Sunscreen Safety Series. I really should come up with a title that doesn't sound like something you're forced to sit through after you've broken the law, or before you can get your driver's license. In any case, welcome to The Nature of Beauty's 3-part series on the topic of Sunscreen, just in time for Memorial Day Weekend. Over the course of the week, I'm going to do my best to extract accurate and helpful information regarding sunscreen and safety, from what is essentially a mixed bag of sound science, hysteria-fueled hype, and blatant misinformation (provided in large part by clever marketing departments and a government not terribly bothered by accuracy of information, so long as companies remain profitable. I'm just sayin'). So buckle up, class, because this could be a bumpy ride.  

The first piece we'll feature is actually one I wrote last year for, following my interview with Bob Root, co-founder of Keys Care, and creator of Keys Solar Rx (more about that below). I present to you my attempt to tackle what I believe is the single most controversial issue in sunscreen safety: the use of nanotechnology. 
Nano Zinc Oxide: Should you really steer clear? 
(originally published on, July 25, 2011)

The rise in prevalence of nano sized particles across a wide range of products has been largely absent any sound research demonstrating their safety. Moreover, it’s largely accepted that these teeny weeny microscopic particles are small enough to penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream, which begs the question: To what extent do nano particles get into the body, and what do they do when they get there?
The answer to that question, with regard to most nano particles, is an unsatisfying, “We don’t know.”
One exception, however, is nano zinc oxide and nano titanium dioxide. According to Bob Root, Keys Care‘s lead formulator and the genius behind top-rated Solar Rx, there are over 400 published studies on the behavior of nano zinc oxide when used in creams and lotions (far less data exists on powders and sprays – i.e., the kind you can inhale). In fact, Root states the bigger problem with nano zinc oxide is making it adhere to the skin. “The spherical shape of nano zinc causes the skin to push it back out,” he explains. “Other nano particles that have more rugged shapes seem to penetrate better, but with nano zinc, the challenge is keeping it on the skin.”
Considering Root and his wife, Wendy Steele, created Keys Care in response to Steele’s battle with melanoma, it is no surprise they are passionate (and extraordinarily knowledgeable) about sun protection. It is because of his determination to create the safest and most effective sunscreens that Root uses nano zinc oxide; he firmly believes it does a much better job protecting skin from the sun’s dangerous UVA rays. His rationale is pretty compelling; to explain the difference, he uses the anology of rocks vs. sand.
nano zinc oxide“If you spread rocks out on one piece of red carpet, and sand on another, on which piece would you see the most red?” In other words, not only does nano zinc fail to penetrate the skin and get into the blood stream, but the smaller particle size means fewer “holes” when you apply a layer of nano zinc oxide sunscreen on the skin (see his illustration on the left).
The Environmental Working Group would appear to concur with Root’s assessment, giving the green light in their 2011 Sunscreen Report to numerous sunscreens that use nano zinc oxide as their primary source of UVA and UVB protection. While the jury is still out on the environmental impact of these itty bitty minerals, it would seem the verdict is as clear as the nano zinc on our skin: Keys Solar Rx,  Blue Lizard, or many of the other brands listed on the Sunscreen Report employing nano zinc oxide to provide broad spectrum UV protection, are as safe as sunscreen can be. 
Still not convinced? Well, good news: You can still find plenty of excellent sunscreens that claim not to use nano zinc oxide. Soleil OrganiqueEco Logical and All Terrain (coming soon to The Nature of Beauty) are some of my favorites, and go on clear for all but the darkest skin tones. I would add, however, that Root firmly believes if the sunscreen goes on clear, no matter what the manufacturer claims, you are using nano sized zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.
If you would like to learn more, Root wrote an excellent, in-depth piece on the Keys Care Blog in 2009 on the topic of nano zinc oxide.  You can also hear my entire interview him here, ordownload it on iTunes. Finally, be sure to check out the EWG’s 2012 Sunscreen Report if you haven’t already, for a list of the best sunscreens, worst sunscreens, and the latest information on sun protection and ingredient safety. 

Finally, I would just add a final note on EWG's demonization of titanium dioxide. All research demonstrating the ill effects of titanium dioxide apply only when it is inhaled or otherwise ingested. It has never been demonstrated to enter the body through the skin. Furthermore, the vast majority of us ingest titanium dioxide all the time, without knowing it, because it's found in many candies eaten mostly by children. That's right - all that fretting about whether to use sunscreen with nano TO2 on the next family camping trip, and it's the marshmallows we should be worried about.


hellohealthy920 said...

This is really great information! I'm about to do a piece on sunscreen safety for my natural beauty blog and would love to link back to this. I recently talked about the safety of nano particles in mineral makeup - I profiled a company that managed to find a very effective way of NOT using it in their mineral products to make sure the titanium dioxide wasn't absorbed in the skin. Thanks for a great piece!

Kelly said...

This is very informative. I've written about sunscreen saftey, it's so important that people know the truth. Didn't know titanium dioxide was in marshmallows, that's a new one for me!

Jennifer @noteasy2begreen said...

I came across your article the same day that I came across a new study suggesting that zinc oxide is less safe than previously thought. I'd love to know what you think about this study.

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kelley said...

Thanks for the post. This is my first time on your site, and I was struck how your info rang true with an article I researched and wrote for Ezine recently. We just launched a green site of our own and sell health and beauty products and other things green. Appreciate your association-

Check out our blog 'The WormFarm Chronicles'... Right now we're talking about worm composting in the dining room -- said...

if zinc oxide isn't as bullet-proof as I thought it was as a child growing up, my nose is in big trouble. Good post!

Ariful Islam said...

I just love your post. Lot of sunscreen are available in market but mostly used and effective sunscreen are those which are made with medicinal mushroom such as cordyceps powder, nano powder etc.
Thanks to share your idea.