How Sunscreen Can Get UNDER your Skin!

Sunscreen and Cosmetics can literally penetrate your skin and end up inside of your body. It might be harmful too.

But how does this happen? Can we prevent this? The answer requires an understanding of how really small stuff —nanotechnology—  works.

What is nanotechnology? Although it may sound complex, it is actually very simple. Nano is a tiny unit of measurement; and nanotechnology is the science and application of ‘small things’, specifically things that are sized less than 100 nanometers (Rathbun et al., 2005). How tiny is that exactly?

Here are a few examples of how small ‘nanometers’ can be (To see full list visit

  • One inch is equivalent to 25,400,000 nanometers
  • A single strand of human hair is equivalent to about 80,000-100,000 nanometers in width 
  • Per second, a single nanometer is about how long your fingernails grow.

Pretty cool, huh? An even cooler fact is that nano-sized materials can be found in things we use every day. 

Imagine this: You are packing to go on a family cruise to Jamaica. You double check to make sure you packed your sunscreen to protect your flawless skin from the sun’s harmful ultra violet (UV) rays. You also make sure that you packed your cosmetics so you can top off your popping outfits with a perfect face to match. Without knowing, you have encountered nanotechnology twice!

Nanotechnology in Sunscreen and Cosmetic Products

Believe it or not (believe it), nanoparticles could be present in the sunscreen and cosmetic products you use daily. According to The Consumer Products Inventory, there are over 1,600 goods that utilize nanoparticles; including zinc oxide (ZnO) and titanium dioxide (TiO2) that can be found in sunscreen and cosmetic products. 

Why use them? 

For decades, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have been used to reflect and absorb UV rays from the sun. Have you ever seen white and filmy residue on your skin after lathering in sunscreen? This is a result of the particle size and shape of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which reflects visible light that gives off a white color with a rather greasy texture. 

But, when the ingredients are condensed into nanoparticles, they behave differently. 

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles not only have extreme UV absorbent capabilities, but they also scatter visible light causing the sunscreen to give off a transparent color and ‘light’ feeling when applied to the skin (Cave 2014). This is also an ideal characteristic for cosmetic products that strive to avoid ‘cakey’ and ‘heavy-feeling’ makeup. Sunscreens and cosmetics with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles have shown to produce products with a higher level of stability and require very little reapplication compared to products without nanoparticles (Cave, 2014). 
Are nanoparticles harmful to the skin? 
Some studies have reported nanoparticles being harmful to living cells when exposed to large doses (Nanoparticles in Sunscreen, 2012). On the other hand, many studies counter that argument stating that nanoparticles in sunscreens and cosmetics do not penetrate through the skin and into the bloodstream. A real-world study used human volunteers to test the penetration ability of zinc oxide particles ranging from 19 and 110 nanometers. The volunteers used sunscreen containing zinc oxide nanoparticles for a total of five days, applying it twice a day (Gulson 2010). In their findings, researchers reported that less than 0.01 percent of zinc oxide penetrated through the skin entering the bloodstream. Sponsored studies from the FDA and European Union have also stated that zinc oxide nanoparticles do not travel into the bloodstream (NanoDerm 2007, Sadrieh 2010).
Nanoparticles in sunscreens and cosmetics have been controversial topics for decades. If you are skeptical about nanoparticles being present in the skin products you use, below is a limited list of products (not limited to) that do/do not contain nanoparticles: 

Products that DON’T contain nano

Products DO that contain nanoparticles

Alba Botanica

Antaria (Sunscreen made with zinc oxide nanoparticles)

Avalon Organics

Marie Louis Cosmetics (Skincare creams that use nanoemulsions)

Black Opal

L’Oreal (Uses polymer nanocapsules to deliver ingredients into the deeper layers of skin)


La Prairie (Dollars 500 Skin Caviar Intensive Ampoule Treatment, claims to minimize aging characteristics of the skin in six weeks using nanotechnology.)


Procter & Gamble (In 2005, the Olay brand was designed with nanoemulsion technology)

Soleo Organics

Lifeline Skin Care (Anti-aging skin cream containing liposome nanoparticles)

Nanotechnology is not limited to the skin care products you use. It can be found in electronics, medicine, food, water, fabric and… AIR! Stay tuned to learn more about the different applications of nanotechnology and its presence in our everyday lives!
To see list of products that do not contain nanoparticles visit: and

To see list of products that have reported to contain nanoparticles visit: and


  1. Boysen, Earl. “Nanotechnology in Cosmetics and Skin Care.” Understanding Nano, 2016,

  2. Cave, Holly. “The Nanotechnology in your Sunscreen.” The Guardian, 2014,

  3. Hudson, Kirsten. “The 2012 Sunscreen It List: 21Brands to Pick From.” Organic Authority, May 2012,

  4. Kessler, Barbara. “ Don’t Get Burned, Use Sunscreen Without Nanoparticles.” Organic Consumers Association, May 2009,

  5. “Quality of skin as a barrier to ultra-fine particles.” NanoDerm,  2007,

  6. “Nanoparticles in Sunscreen.”  Environmental Working Group,  2012,

  7. “Nanotechnology in Cosmetics.” Nano Werk, 2017,

  8. Raj, Silpa. “Nanotechnology in Cosmetics: Opportunities and Challenges.” National Institutes of Health, 2012,

  9. Rathbun, Lynn et al. “What is Nanotechnology?” National Technology Infrastructure, 2005,

  10. Sadrieh N, Wokovich AM, Gopee NV, et al. “Lack of significant dermal penetration of titanium dioxide from sunscreen formulations containing nano- and submicron-size TiO2particles.” Toxicol Sci, 2010.

  11. “Size of the Nanoscale” National Nanotechnology Initiative, 2016,

  12. Soutter, Will. “Nanotechnology in Cosmetics.” AZO Nano, Sep. 2012,