Nanoparticles Dangerous for People, Oceans

Non-Nano Titanium Tested Safe Even for Vulnerable Coral Larva

On Friday, a customer sent us a copy of an article questioning the safety of titanium dioxide, the active ingredient in all Stream2Sea reef-safe sunscreens published in the peer-review journal Radiation and Oncology. The science nerds on our team jumped on it immediately, expecting to hear from thousands of other customers. We knew we needed to review the issues and “translate” the science to readable English. Turns out the story was originally published in 2011 – and focuses on nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, which we have never, ever even considered using. We’d reviewed and considered previous work showing that it, and other nanoparticles, poses a clear and present danger to people. Nano-titanium and nano-zinc particles are easily absorbed by the human body and the aquatic environment. They cause oxidative stress (think free radicals) that may lead to cell damage, genotoxic effects, inflammatory responses and changes in cell structure. We did learn one very important fact buried in the back of the report: “Current legislation does not require labeling whether the products contain nano-sized titanium dioxide.”

Stream2Sea biodegradable and reef safe mineral sunscreens are independently verified to contain only NON-NANO particles of titanium dioxide. The X-Axis on these charts are in microns. 100 nanometers equals 0.1 micron. Both plots show nothing below 100 nanometers or 0.1 microns.

It’s not just sunscreen labeled reef-safe either – the scientists point out that the use of nano-titanium dioxide is growing exponentially in everything from paint to cosmetics and even toothpaste. And this is from scientists who also conclude: “Until relevant toxicological and human exposure data that would enable reliable risk assessment are obtained, nanoparticles of titanium dioxide should be used with great care.” We understand the allure of using nano-titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in so-called “reef-safe sunscreens.” Breaking those molecules down disperses the “whiteness” of the ingredient so the sunscreen is easier to apply. We absolutely disagree with using anything that could harm our bodies or our ocean, which is why we use a larger and safer (and whiter) particle size. We’ve always been totally transparent about our reef-safe sunscreens and personal care products – even when our first formula trials failed aquatic toxicity. It seems like we spend a lot of time telling customers to read the labels – this report highlights the importance of learning even more. Reputable companies will provide third-party testing showing that their ingredients are not nano, but since they’re not required to say so on a label, they can use whatever they want if they don’t really care. We know it can be a pain in the butt to check websites but here’s an easy option. If a sunscreen labeled “reef-safe” applies clear without any whiteness that easily rubs in, it’s most likely nano titanium or zinc.  (Unless, of course, it’s our new tinted sunscreen made with minerals that create the illusion of a tan even if you don’t have one!) And thinking that thought through — it could be even worse! “Reef-safe” is a totally non-regulated label, so a manufacturer could load it with whatever they want and still use the term. (We’ve even seen several sunscreens lately labeled “oxybenzone-free,” clearly marketed to those looking for marine safe products, but then loaded with chemicals so similar they’re likely to be just as dangerous to the marine world we love). Coming next month: another nerdy article we discovered while we were searching for the online link to this document. The full, very complicated, report is paywalled but the title is clear – Health hazards of nanoparticles: understanding the toxicity mechanism of nanosized zinc in cosmetic particles published in this month’s issue of Drug and Chemical Toxicology.  

Want to learn more? Check out some of our previous posts!

Biodegradable Shampoo: The Inside Scoop on Reef and Fish Safety

Biodegradable Shampoo: The Inside Scoop on Reef and Fish Safety

I was so proud of my first formula for Stream2Sea—a biodegradable shampoo with all natural, Whole Foods and EcoCert compliant ingredients. I’d thoroughly checked the safety information, carefully avoiding the known toxicants like sodium laureth sulfate and silicones,...

Taking Time for Gratitude: 7 Things We’re Grateful for This Year

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This Thanksgiving—as always—we are grateful for all of the work being done around the world to generate positive environmental change. We would like to recognize some of the great folks in our industry doing this work every day! * We are thankful for...all water-based...

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