Nanoparticles: The Good, The Bad and the UNKNOWN



Nanoparticles (not to be confused with microbeads) are microscopic particles that are generally described as less than 100 nanometers in diameter, although some sources reference an upper limit of 200 nanometers.  This size boils down to about 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.  Nanotechology is the science of manipulating these microscopic particles.  According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI), cosmetic manufacturers commonly use nanoscale versions of ingredients to provide better UV protection, deeper skin penetration, long-lasting effects and more intense color and/or finish.


  1. Hair Care: shampoo, conditioner, color treatment
  2. Makeup: foundation, concealer, blush, eyeshadow and mascara
  3. Skincare: moisturizers and anti-wrinkle creams
  4. Sunscreens: nanoparticles are commonly added to enhance skin penetration. 
  5. Aerosolized cosmetic products can result in exposure to nanomaterials via the respiratory tract. 

Non Nano Zinc Sunscreen by Raw Elements

Non-nano, Eco-friendly Sunscreen by Raw Elements



Nanotechnology is a science that can be a benefit in many industries.  It is being used to build smaller and more efficient batteries, fuel cells and solar cells.  They are even used to make materials stronger, such as bicycle helmets! In the healthcare industry, the technology could revolutionize the way we treat disease and tissue damage.  In addition to detection and targeted destruction of cancer cells, nanotechnology can be utilized to administer drugs more effectively, to absorb and remove toxins from the bloodstream and organs, and to detect levels of chemicals and nutrients in the body.


Unfortunately, some nanoparticles can be toxic to both humans and the environment. A particle that is nano-sized behaves differently than when it is regular-sized.  Per an article in MIT news, researchers have discovered that some nanomaterials (silver, zinc oxide, iron oxide, cerium oxide and silicon dioxide, or silica) can produce free radicals which can alter DNA and – when absorbed into the body – accumulate in tissues and cause damage.  Because they are microscopic, nanoparticles in skincare products can easily be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin, inhalation or ingestion. If not properly handled, nanoparticles can be released into the water, air and soil during manufacturing or disposal.


Some sunscreen manufacturers use nano Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide to enhance skin penetration in order to avoid a white cast.  Those that do not use nanotechnology typically label their products as NON-NANO.  The EWG has some conflicting information regarding nanoparticles in Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide sunscreens.  Although originally concerned about the use of nanoparticles in these active ingredients, their recent studies have found Zinc and Titanium Dioxide DO NOT penetrate the skin regardless of size – nano or not!  However, EWG discourages the use of aerosolized products including sunscreen and loose powders because of the inhalation risk.


Despite on-going studies, it may be years before understanding how the use of certain nanoparticles in hundreds of consumer products is impacting human health, wildlife and the environment. This is because the properties of nanoparticles may vary depending on size, shape, surface area and coatings. According to Yale Environment 360, “Other questions about nanoparticles need to be answered: Who is at risk? Workers? People using nano-enabled products? Wildlife and ecosystems? How should we measure exposures?


Unfortunately, there are no specific regulations in the U.S. regarding the safety of nanoparticles, so you may not be able to find information on product labels or company websites. While the most recent research points out that zinc (nano or not) is not capable of penetrating the skin. If you wish to try and steer clear of nanos, follow these tips: 

  1. Contact the manufacturer with any ingredient questions.
  2. Because loose particles appear to be of concern, and may be dangerous to lungs when inhaled, avoid or limit use of LOOSE mineral makeup that MAY contain nanoparticles. Loose mineral makeup may also contain mica (not a nanoparticle) that can be harmful if inhaled.
  3. Avoid aerosol products including spray sunscreens.
  4. Avoid chemical blocks in sunscreens.

Badger recently launched a new "clear zinc" variety of sunscreen.  They are using safety-tested technology that fuses smaller, nanoparticles together to create larger particles resulting of a non-nano finished product.  These sunscreens rub in easily and have less of a white cast to them.  Badger has an outstanding reputation for creating SAFE products for the entire family.


 Top Photo Credit: Vectorpot/  



FDA Final Guidances on Nanotechnology:
 “Nanotechnology in Cosmetics: Opportunities and Challenges” by Silpa Raj, Shoma Jose, U.S. Sumod and M. Sabitha, NCBI,
 “Nanotechnology: Potential Pros and Cons for Humanity by PL Chang,” Conscious Life News, April 24, 2014,
 “Tiny Particles May Pose Big Risk” by Anne Trafton, MIT News, April 8, 2014,
 “What are Nonoparticles?” by Dr. Ananya Manda, M.D., News Medical,
 “Nano-materials: prevalence in personal care products” EWG
 “Nanoparticles in Sunscreens” EWG
Margot White


Great information! High quality and it really helped. Just wondering what year was this written?

— Smran