Archives of Toxicology

, Volume 86, Issue 7, pp 1063–1075 | Cite as

Nano-sized cosmetic formulations or solid nanoparticles in sunscreens: A risk to human health?

Inorganic compounds


Personal care products (PCP) often contain micron- or nano-sized formulation components, such as nanoemulsions or microscopic vesicles. A large number of studies suggest that such vesicles do not penetrate human skin beyond the superficial layers of the stratum corneum. Nano-sized PCP formulations may enhance or reduce skin absorption of ingredients, albeit at a limited scale. Modern sunscreens contain insoluble titanium dioxide (TiO2) or zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles (NP), which are efficient filters of UV light. A large number of studies suggest that insoluble NP do not penetrate into or through human skin. A number of in vivo toxicity tests, including in vivo intravenous studies, showed that TiO2 and ZnO NP are non-toxic and have an excellent skin tolerance. Cytotoxicity, genotoxicity, photo-genotoxicity, general toxicity and carcinogenicity studies on TiO2 and ZnO NP found no difference in the safety profile of micro- or nano-sized materials, all of which were found to be non-toxic. Although some published in vitro studies on insoluble nano- or micron-sized particles suggested cell uptake, oxidative cell damage or genotoxicity, these data are consistent with those from micron-sized particles and should be interpreted with caution. Data on insoluble NP, such as surgical implant-derived wear debris particles or intravenously administered magnetic resonance contrast agents suggest that toxicity of small particles is generally related to their chemistry rather than their particle size. Overall, the weight of scientific evidence suggests that insoluble NP used in sunscreens pose no or negligible risk to human health, but offer large health benefits, such as the protection of human skin against UV-induced skin ageing and cancer.


Personal care products Sunscreens Nanoparticles TiO2 ZnO Skin penetration Safety assessment 



Good laboratory practice




Personal care product(s)/cosmetics


Primary particle size


Stratum corneum


Titanium dioxide


Transdermal drug delivery


Zinc oxide



The authors of the article are employees of the personal care product industry. However, the opinions forwarded in the article represent their personal and independent opinions. In addition, the authors received no personal support or reward by their employer or the PCP industry for writing the article.

Conflict of interest

They therefore declare no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global Safety Evaluation, L’OREAL Research and InnovationAsnièresFrance
  2. 2.Global Safety Evaluation, L’OREAL Research and InnovationAsnièresFrance

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