Stories tagged sunscreen


This article describes the results of a study conducted by the Australian Government, which says some Australians “may be raising their risk of skin cancer by avoiding sunscreen due to unfounded fears over nanoparticles.” The article went on to say that one third of the people surveyed had heard or read about the possible risks of nanoparticles, and that 13% of these people would be less likely to use sunscreen. At first, this seemed like a very interesting finding – people would rank nanoparticles higher than skin cancer on their personal risk meters! But as I examined the article a little more, I realized I have a few issues with the way it presented the results. A Discrete Request for Regulation: The Hoff is on board.
A Discrete Request for Regulation: The Hoff is on board.Courtesy Friends of the Earth Australia

First, the article makes it sound as if survey-takers were faced with the question, “would you rather risk getting skin cancer or use a sunscreen with nanoparticles in it?” In actuality, they were simply asked if they would be less likely to use a nanoparticle-based sunscreen, given the risks they’d heard about. I realize it is implied that if you don’t use sunscreen your chances of getting skin cancer increase, but when taking a survey, you’re probably just answering the question at hand: Would you be less likely to use a product that you’ve heard could by risky. These answers are also coming from a survey that repeatedly mentions the “possible risks of using sunscreen with nanoparticles” in various questions. It seems to me that hula hooping could start to sound risky by the end of a survey like that. “Have you heard or read about the possible risks of hula hooping? If you have heard or read about the possible risks of hula hooping, do the stories make you any less likely to hula hoop in general? Agree or Disagree: 1.) Hula hooping is risky to my health. 2.) Hula hooping is more risky to my health than not hula hooping 3.) I am scared to hula-hoop.” Ok, I exaggerate a little, but the way a survey is presented has an effect on the answers people provide.

I get that they’re trying to highlight the fact that some people perceive nanoparticle-based sunscreens as dangerous, and that’s an interesting finding- not because they would stop using sunscreen, but because the current weight of evidence suggests that the nanoparticles in sunscreens don’t penetrate the skin - they’re harmless to humans. Which brings me to my point that perhaps a more telling result of the study is the high number of people who said they didn’t know if nanoparticle-based sunscreens are risky, and needed more information before deciding whether to use them. The fact that some people perceive nanoparticle-based sunscreens as dangerous when the current scientific evidence suggests otherwise, supports the idea that people just don’t know enough about nanoparticle-based products.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all nanoparticle-based products are safe, across the board. I’m also not trying to downplay people’s concerns about this relatively new technology. In fact, I think a healthy dose of caution is a good thing when it comes to new technologies. I just think that fear comes from not knowing, and people’s concerns could be alleviated if they had more information. What is concerning is that the information isn’t exactly available. There are no regulations on nano products (though the FDA appears to be working on it), companies are not required to label their products as containing nanoparticles, and there are no standards in defining what a nano product is. What I am suggesting is that maybe we should be demanding that information from the likes of industries, governments, policy makers, etc, instead of focusing on the few that perceive nanoparticles as risky.

The point of the study was to figure out the public’s perception of sunscreens that contain nanoparticles, and I think it did. It showed that the public doesn’t know enough about it to make any real/informed decisions.

What’s your take? How do you feel about nanoparticles being used in products you rely on every day? What do you think about regulating this technology? Creating standards for it? Do you think these regulations and standards would stifle scientific progress, or protect our health? What do you think about hula hooping?


Summer is here, and many of us in the upper Midwest utilize this crazy thing called warmth to gleefully attempt squeezing as much natural Vitamin D out of the sunlight as we can muster. And to ensure we can do this day after day after day without wholly inconvenient trips to the ER with third-degree sunburns, we lather on the The Sun: Hhhhhhooooottttttttt.
The Sun: Hhhhhhooooottttttttt.Courtesy NASA
sunscreen. By the way, have you ever done a Google image search for third-degree sunburns? Not recommended if you’re eating or have just eaten. It’s nasty. Unless, of course, you’re trying to prove a point to someone about why sunscreen and the reapplication thereof are important, then by all means search away.

Anyway – it’s not often that we think about what’s in our sunscreen. First and foremost, sunscreens are categorized in two different ways – chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens have special, you got it, chemicals that penetrate the skin and absorb the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Physical sunscreens (often referred to as sunblocks) use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to sit atop the skin and flat-out block those rays from ever touching you. They usually went on in some bright color and stayed that way, impossible to rub in clear. Remember back in the day when lifeguards used to have bright-white (or neon pink, green, blue, or yellow) noses? Yep, sunblock.

Enter nano.

Now you can find sunBLOCK in your grocery store/pharmacy/chemist/convenience store that excitedly claims on its packaging that it rubs in clear. And for that, you can thank nanoscale science. You see, scientists have figured out how to put tiny little nano-particles of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide into a solution – taking advantage of the concept of surface area – in a way that has the same sun-blocking properties without the embarrassing shock-white coverage. Way cool, right?


Ummm…maybe not? Here’s a charming and edifying video by the people who brought you The Story of Stuff, called The Story of Cosmetics. In it, they put a big huge lens up to the cosmetics industry, specifically the lack of labeling laws and regulations. Because right now, who KNOWS what we’re putting on our skin, and what affect it will have, because most of it is not even tested. The Story of Cosmetics says, “Less than 20% of chemicals in cosmetics have been assessed for safety by the industry’s safety panel, so we just don’t know what they do to us when we use them. Would you fly on an airline that only inspects 20% of its planes?” Nope. Can’t say that I would.

This concern about safety applies to products using nanoparticles, too. We just don’t know yet what is safe and what isn’t, and nanoparticles can pose new, significant risks. They talk a little about it here. And Andrew Maynard over at 2020 Science talks about it here .

Kind of overwhelming, right? So what can you do?

*You can do as much research as you can before you buy – a personal favorite is EWG’s Skin Deep database.
*You can call or e-mail or contact via post the companies who use toxic chemicals in their products, and tell them they’ve lost a customer until they cut it out.
*You can contact your legislators, and tell them that it’s important.

Until then – well – look at that nice shady spot under that tree over there…


Nanotech Inventory: The nanotech product inventory

Nanotechnology is certainly a big buzz word in the world of science and technology. Scientists are making efforts to bring us futuristic products like an elevator to space and super cheap solar cells by manipulating materials at the nano scale (almost 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair). Some of these futuristic breakthroughs could revolutionize how we live and improve our lives.

Yet, the popular media is also buzzing with nanotechnology safety concerns. Because this technology is so new and unknown we don't know all of the risks involved with building at the scale of atoms.

But whether you see nano-tech products as the promise of the future or a scourge to our health, few people realize that there is an amazing array of products out there right now that use nano-technology.

Don't believe me? Just check out the Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory. They have a list of over 200 current products you can buy containing nano-technology including, BEHR paint, Dockers Pants, and my favorite the GreenYarn nano beauty mask.

Nanotechnology holds great promise. Whether its future will be overwhelmingly negative or positive is yet to be decided. But, the future is no longer far off in the distance. Nanotechnology is on the self of our hardware, drug, and convenience stores right now.

So does this make you excited? Worried? Or is it all just hype?