Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, 13:3607 | Cite as

The structure, composition, and dimensions of TiO2 and ZnO nanomaterials in commercial sunscreens

  • Zuzanna A. Lewicka
  • Angelo F. Benedetto
  • Denise N. Benoit
  • William W. Yu
  • John D. Fortner
  • Vicki L. ColvinEmail author
Research Paper


TiO2 and ZnO nanomaterials are widely used to block ultraviolet radiation in many skin care products, yet product labels do not specify their dimensions, shape, or composition. The absence of this basic information creates a data gap for both researchers and consumers alike. Here, we investigate the structural similarity of pigments derived from actual sunscreen products to nanocrystals which have been the subject of intense scrutiny in the nanotoxicity literature. TiO2 and ZnO particles were isolated from eight out of nine commercial suncare products using three extraction methods. Their dimension, shape, crystal phase, surface area, and elemental composition were examined using transmission and scanning electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, Brunauer–Emmett–Teller (BET) specific surface area analysis, energy dispersive X-ray and inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy. TiO2 pigments were generally rutile nanocrystals (dimensions ~25 nm) with needle-like or near-spherical shapes. ZnO pigments were wurtzite rods with a short axes less than 40 nm and longer dimensions often in excess of 100 nm. We identify two commercial sources of TiO2 and ZnO nanocrystals whose physical and chemical features are similar to the pigments found in sunscreens. These particular materials would be effective surrogates for the commercial product and could be used in studies of the health and environmental impacts of engineered nanomaterials contained in sunscreens.


Sunscreen Nanomaterial TiO2 ZnO Ultraviolet blocking Health and safety implications 



This work was supported by the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (EEC-0647452) through NSF, the Shared Equipment Authority instrumentation at Rice University and in part through the collaboration with Consumer’s Union.

Supplementary material

11051_2011_438_MOESM1_ESM.doc (2.3 mb)
Supplementary material (DOC 2372 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zuzanna A. Lewicka
    • 1
  • Angelo F. Benedetto
    • 2
  • Denise N. Benoit
    • 3
  • William W. Yu
    • 3
  • John D. Fortner
    • 3
  • Vicki L. Colvin
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Electrical and Computer EngineeringRice UniversityHoustonUSA
  2. 2.Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and TechnologyRice UniversityHoustonUSA
  3. 3.Department of ChemistryRice UniversityHoustonUSA

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