Posted by Claudia Grazioso on July 22, 2011
At some point, it seems that smearing my kids with sunblock became another grueling parental chore. When they were babies it was easier — there just wasn’t that much surface area to cover. But now that they’re older, I find I’m spending a ridiculous amount of precious get-out-of-the-house morning time sunblocking them. And since we use a mineral-based block, it takes extra long to rub it all in so my kids just look chalky and pale, and not part of a Kabuki theatre troupe. In addition to time lost, I swear I was developing carpel tunnels.
So a while ago I broke down and bought a spray sunblock, and it was great. A terrific timesaver, it was a psssht here, a psssht there, and we were done and out the door. Then I started noticing that there was a lot of coughing going on whenever I used it. And I wondered if anything as fast and easy as spray-on sunblock could be good for you.
Short answer, no. Long answer, heck no. In looking into spray-on sunblocks, I stumbled into the weird alternate universe of nanoparticles. Briefly, they are one of those nifty new chemical substances that are suddenly in almost everything but that nobody has really taken the time to adequately study for safety. It turns out that nanoparticles of Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) and Zinc (ZnO) are in some regular sunblock lotions, too — and while some researchers raise doubts the overall safety of nanoparticles, most seem to agree that they don’t get absorbed into your body through your skin. But what about nanoparticles like TiO2 that are ingested or inhaled? It turns out some doctors are beginning to worry about that. They believe that TiO2 can cause genetic damage and that once it is ingested it can accumulate in various organs and that our bodies cannot digest or eliminate it. In other words, that gross film that settles on your tongue when you breathe in spray sunblock?Probably not good.
Researchers are even beginning to look at a link between nanoparticles and cancer, some even going to so far as to suggest that some cancers that seemed “spontaneous” or to come out of nowhere might actually be attributable to our growing exposure to nanoparticles.
As is often the case, it seems that there is more we don’t know about nanoparticles than we do, but they are already being used widely in products most people are in contact with everyday. So like BPAs when they first were used, they might be impossible to avoid entirely. But France’s Health Products Safety Agency, the AFSSAPS, has published a report saying that further study of these new chemicals is necessary, and they have suggested not using sunblock that has TiO2 nanoparticles in it, or only using it in a well-ventilated area. Sunblock that should only be used in a well-ventilated area? I’ll pass. It’s back to the pasty mineral block. I’ll just look at it as a workout for my wrists.