Sunscreens Can Cause Health Risks

‘Nano’ sunscreens use new technology, could pose health risks
By Richard Harkness
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Question: I read there could be safety issues with “nano” sunscreens. What exactly are they and how do I tell whether the sunscreen I buy is this type or not?

Answer: “Nano” refers to sunscreen products engineered using nanotechnology.

All substances are made up of particles, small pieces of matter. Nanotechnology manipulates substances at the molecular or atomic level to create “nano” (submicroscopic) particles.

A number of environmental groups have petitioned the FDA to recall sunscreen products manufactured using nanotechnology.

Their concern is that these tiny particle sizes, which the body is not used to handling, could pose health risks.

The groups also want to see beefier regulation of nanotechnology in general.

The sunscreen products in question contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These agents are called “physical” sunscreens because they completely block the sun’s UV radiation.

The drawback of physical sunscreens, in contrast to the more commonly used “chemical” sunscreens, is that they leave a visible coating on the skin that makes them cosmetically unsightly.

Enter nanotechnology, which creates particles fine enough to make the physical agents transparent when applied to the skin. Thus, nano sunscreens can share “cosmetically acceptable” bragging rights with chemical sunscreens.

So how do you identify which products are “nano” and which are standard?

Nano sunscreen products may use a term like “micronized” on the label.

And, as noted, they are transparent when applied to the skin, rather than opaque like standard products.

Summer means it’s time to start slathering on more sunscreen to protect the skin from the sun’s UV radiation.

The more popular chemical sunscreens, a step down from the complete protection of the physical sunscreens, protect against UVB as well as part of the UVA spectrum.

Choose a product with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 15.

UVB rays primarily affect the skin surface and are the main cause of sunburn. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and are associated with premature skin aging. Both types are thought to be linked to skin cancer.

UV rays also promote cataracts and other eye damage. Choose sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays (check the label for the stated percentage).

Babies are most vulnerable to UV radiation. It’s best to keep them in shady areas when outside. Dress them in lightweight, light-colored clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and, if possible, UV-blocking sunglasses.

Your pediatrician may recommend using small amounts of sunscreen on exposed skin when necessary.

One benefit of sun exposure is that it stimulates the skin to produce vitamin D (the “sunshine” vitamin), which is vital in many ways, including protecting against bone-weakening osteoporosis.

Exposing the face and arms for just 5 to 10 minutes 2 to 3 times a week revs up production of vitamin D3, which the body readily converts to the active form of vitamin D.