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What Are the Pros and Cons of Nanoparticles in Sunscreen?

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are common nanoparticles in sunscreen.
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  • Written By: Nick Mann
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 06 July 2014
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Nanoparticles are microscopic particles that are invisible to the human eye. These particles are a part of a branch of science called nanotechnology, which brings various types of matter down to the molecular scale. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the two most common types of nanoparticles found in sunscreen.

In the scientific community, there has been much debate on whether these nanoparticles do more harm or good to people and the environment. To get a better understanding about the issue, it's important to weigh both the pros and cons of nanoparticles in sunscreen. Some benefits include improved skin penetration and better protection from the sun's ultraviolet rays. Disadvantages, on the other hand, include the potential for cell damage and adverse affects to the environment.

According to some scientists, the nanoparticles found in sunscreen help improve how the helpful substances penetrate the skin to protect against the sun. Nanoparticles are so microscopic that they can successfully penetrate the skin. Since the epidermis is normally very difficult to penetrate, this is beneficial. As a result, the healthy, helpful substances of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can enter through the skin and ultimately reach cells.

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This in turn leads to the second benefit of nanoparticles in sunscreen. Since nanoparticles are able to reach cells, they help to consequently provide the skin with better protection from ultraviolet rays. When compared with traditional sunscreen, sunscreen containing nanoparticles is better adapted for protecting from skin cancer. This is especially helpful in locations with intense ultraviolet rays like Australia.

On the other hand, one of the main drawbacks is that there is the potential for cell damage when employing nanotechnology. Since this is a relatively new technology, it's difficult to determine exactly what the long term effects on human cells will be. Some scientists are concerned that penetrating cells with nanoparticles will increase reactive oxygen species levels. As a result, there is the potential for serious cellular damage that can have negative, long term health consequences. Until we know more about nanotechnology, many scientists are wary of its effects.

Another problem with nanoparticles in sunscreen is that they could also cause environmental damage. Some environmentalists are concerned that nanoparticles can interfere and upset certain microorganisms that help sustain the environment. This unnatural effect on the biosphere could do damage to both plants and animals. In the long term, some worry that nanoparticles in sunscreen could potentially even create new diseases that could kill humans, plants and animals.

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Discuss this Article

anon339214
Post 21

I think science is utterly amazing.

anon301547
Post 7

I disagree with the use of nanoparticles.

anon249839
Post 3

Nanoparticles are bad.

lluviaporos
Post 2

@KoiwiGal - Most of the controversy that I've seen is over titanium dioxide sunscreen and comes from a some studies in which titanium dioxide damaged mouse DNA. I don't know if they have done any studies on humans, but I would be quite cautious about using sunscreen with titanium dioxide in it. I think it's a fairly recent ingredient so they have no idea what the long term effects might be on humans.

And really, the whole point of using sunscreen is to stop damage to your DNA so you don't develop cancer.

To be honest, I think the best way to deal with the whole thing is to cover up with UV protection clothing and avoid sitting in the sun too much.

But I also think people should live their lives as they see fit, so it's a hard judgement to make.

KoiwiGal
Post 1

This is a really serious problem and one that I hope scientists are working to address. I live in a country that has more than its share of exposure to radiation, just because of the hole in the ozone layer. I've known several people to get skin cancer over the years and I'm nervous that I'll develop it one day as well.

But, if there are constant doubts as to whether sunscreen will do more harm than good, it doesn't encourage people to use it, when they really really ought to.

Nanoparticle sunscreen is something that affects a lot of people in the world and I think it should be addressed as quickly as possible.

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