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Dear Fig+Sage :: To Nano Or Non-Nano - That Is The Sunscreen Question

Q: I have a question regarding the Vivesana sunscreen you just reviewed, which coincidentally I was considering purchasing for my own use, but hesitated because I was concerned about the size of the Zinc / Titanium Dioxide particle size.  I was not able to confirm that they are non-nano and >100nm to eliminate the risk of being absorbed into the skin.  Would you be able to confirm that there are not nano-size particles? I am having trouble finding a physical sunscreen for my face that is organic, non-nano (w/ particle size greater than 100nm) and non-greasy.  Thank you so much for your informative but fun blog that I've become a huge dan of. I've become so much 'smarter' with respect to organic products and ingredients thanks to you, and I'm sure tons of other readers feel the same way. ~Jennifer

A: Thanks for your sweet compliment!  We're super excited that you've found our little corner of the web a fun + informative place!  First, good for you for finding an uber-healthy sunscreen option and steering clear of the conventional variety loaded with safety concerns a plenty.  We think Vivesana probably does use nano minerals in their sunscreen, but we are awaiting their official response.  In the meantime we thought we'd share our thoughts with you and all our readers since this seems to be quite the hot topic!   

Spirit at Spirit Beauty Lounge just posted a comment on our Vivesana post because many people ask this very same question and we concur with her comment - we aren't fretting about it either.

"We are not concerned about the use of nano minerals in cream formulations. As the EWG said themselves: “When we began our sunscreen investigation at the Environmental Working Group, our researchers thought we would ultimately recommend against micronized and nano-sized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens. After all, no one has taken a more expansive and critical look than EWG at the use of nanoparticles in cosmetics and sunscreens, including the lack of definitive safety data and consumer information on these common new ingredients, and few substances more dramatically highlight gaps in our system of public health protections than the raw materials used in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. But many months and nearly 400 peer-reviewed studies later, we find ourselves drawing a different conclusion, and recommending some sunscreens that may contain nano-sized ingredients“. There is no evidence that nano minerals in sunscreen creams, especially this one can or do penetrate the skin."

Two other highly knowledgeable experts in the area of sunscreen, skin cancer and natural products are Bob Root and Wendy Keys, who own Keys, a natural skincare company who's #1 concern is sun and sunscreen safety. This article is a couple years old but contains a lot of great information. This is a highly simplistic, yet easy to understand, very brief overview of how nano came to be "scary", according to Bob Root:

"Here is a sort of a CNN version of the entire 20 year nano controversy:

•A guy named Stark presented a hypothesis in 1989 that nano particles would pass through the skin, through the blood and into the brain causing god knows what.

•400+  peer-reviewed studies later, nano zinc oxide does not make it past the dead layer of the outer skin.

•Non-profit organizations treat nano like a dog with a dead rat. Shake, shake, shake and then put it aside until next fund raising round. Using FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) to marshal controversy."

"With nearly 500 studies to date, no one has ever shown nano zinc oxide to be harmful. That is a score of almost 500 to 0. Remarkable in any sport, yet we still test and study. Still, we read of stories of doom and cataclysm. " ~Bob Root, Keys Product Formulator & Founder

I highly recommend Keys Solar Rx Moisturizer Sunblock SPF 30 for facial use and they have trial sizes you can try first before splurging.  It works well under makeup and does not cause irritation or breakouts.  You can find them at or Nature of Beauty

Another company we respect, Badger, used zinc oxide nanoparticles in their sunscreens up until March of this year and they firmly believed they were safe and still do.  So why did they change the formulation?  Consumer demand.  And in our opinion, that consumer demand was driven by consumer fear, as opposed to facts.  This is why we believe several natural sunscreen brands have re-formulated recently, not because they all believe nano-sized particles to be harmful but that consumer perception is that it is harmful.   Please read Badger's Zinc Oxide & Nanoparticles In Sunscreen page for some great info.

"Badger no longer uses zinc oxide nanoparticles in their sunscreens, but we stand by our original assertion that larger nanoparticles (>30nm) are safe when used in sunscreen creams."

At this point in time, based on scientific research studies and our own non-scientific knowledge and gut instincts, we believe the nano/non-nano particle debacle is, for the most part, likely sensationalized hype as opposed to hard facts.  Do you think we'd be rubbing it on our precious children's bodies if we thought otherwise?  Notsomuch. We also understand wanting to err on the side of caution and we're thrilled more and more consumers are reading the labels and care what goes on their skin.  Thrilled about that, really, we are!  If you are still concerned the good news is that you have the option to choose between sunscreen that contains nanoparticles and those that do not.  Going forward with our Sunscreenapalooza! we will be sure to include whether a particular brand does or does not use them so that all of you savvy shoppers can decide for yourself as to what you are comfortable slathering on your bod.  Stay tuned because we will be posting reviews of 4 other natural sunscreens soon! 
Hope this helps!

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