While sunscreen is a no-brainer for protecting our skin from the damage UV rays can cause, some sun protection products come with health risks of their own.

Nanoparticles are used in many mineral sunscreens to make the product go on clear, getting rid of the white residue mineral sunscreens carry. And while the clear look is much preferred to ghostly, nanos may be doing our skin and health little good.

What are Nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles are made through the use of nanotechnology which involves manipulating the size of materials to the ultra-small scale of atoms and molecules. "Nano" is deemed as anything measuring less than 100 nanometers (nm), one nm being one billionth of a meter. Obviously, invisible to the human eye. To get a better grasp of the teeny-tiny size, a DNA strand is approximately 2nm wide and a human hair is a much larger 80,000 nm thick.

But nanoparticles are not just smaller than their larger counterparts. Nanotechnology not only reduces the size of the material but changes its makeup, causing inherent differences in its physical, biological and chemical properties. For example, stable materials can become more reactive, relatively nontoxic substances can become more toxic.

Potential Health Risks

The extremely small scale of nanoparticles makes them much easier for the body to absorb. These tiny particles, unlike larger-size particles, can then enter vital organs and tissues, and even find their way into the body's cells.

Unknown as to how dangerous this may be, scientists have found that nanoparticles, like those used in sunscreens, can form free radicals which lead to DNA damage and interference of cell function. Furthermore, recent studies show no evidence that nanoparticle sunscreens are actually better at protecting from UV damage than larger particles.

Friends of the Earth has done extensive research on the subject of nanoparticles and their effect on human health and that of the environment. Recent studies documented in the publication have shown that nanoparticles of titanium dioxide reach the offspring of pregnant mice after intravenous injection. One study shows brain damage, nerve damage, and lower sperm production in male offspring. Another shows altered brain development in the offspring. Still others document the transfer to offspring through inhalation of the mineral.

How to Avoid Nanos

There are currently no labeling or safety information regulations for cosmetic products where nanoparticles are concerned. This means a manufacturer does not have to list on the ingredient label whether or not the product contains nanoparticles.

The United Kingdom's Royal Society, the world's oldest scientific institution, recommends nanoparticles be treated as new chemicals and undergo safety assessments before being used in consumer products. Though the safety of nanos has not yet been discerned, the US government has no set standards for the use or regulation of nanoparticles at this time.

The best way to avoid nanoparticles in cosmetics is to follow brands committed to creating products with no-nanos.

TRUE Natural = No-Nanos

You can be assured that TRUE Natural Sunscreens are strictly nanoparticle free. In fact, the zinc particle manufacturer has certified that the particles are nano-free in accordance to the International Cooperation on Cosmetic Regulation definition of nanoparticles - basically 1-100nm in size. In addition, its EcoCert-certified for use in Natural and Organic skin care.

But we understand that most consumers would rather use a chemical sunscreen, or no sunscreen at all, than battle the white glare of traditional mineral sunscreen. It is important to us that you get the best sun protection, and to do that you have to like the sunscreen.

True Natural sunscreens only use nano-free zinc oxide. Our sunscreens are completely safe and nontoxic, with minimal white residue without the use of nanoparticles, providing the best broad spectrum UV protection.

For more information about Nanoparticles Friends of the Earth Nanotechnology Project or the Nano Science Institute.