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

Arch Toxicol. 2012 Jul;86(7):1063-75. doi: 10.1007/s00204-012-0831-5. Epub 2012 Mar 31.


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.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Administration, Cutaneous
  • Animals
  • Cosmetics / administration & dosage
  • Cosmetics / chemistry
  • Cosmetics / toxicity*
  • Drug Delivery Systems / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Metal Nanoparticles / administration & dosage
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Metal Nanoparticles / toxicity
  • Nanoparticles / administration & dosage
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Particle Size
  • Risk Assessment
  • Skin / drug effects*
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Sunscreening Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Sunscreening Agents / adverse effects
  • Sunscreening Agents / chemistry
  • Sunscreening Agents / therapeutic use


  • Cosmetics
  • Sunscreening Agents