photo by blueforce4116 (Flickr CC)

Are their tiny nanotech machines in your sun block?

Recent headlines about nanotech being in sunscreen seem a bit misleading upon closer inspection. These are not tiny machines or circuits buzzing around that white cream you slather on to prevent sunburn and skin cancer.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines nanotechnology as such: The science and technology of building electronic circuits and devices from single atoms and molecules.

Nanoparticles are measured between 1 and 2,500 nanometers, depending on their classification. One nanometer is one billionth of a meter, so even the largest of nanoparticles is pretty small.

The fuss is about sunscreen makers including nano-sized particles of zinc and titanium dioxide in their products in order to avoid that white sheen that refuses to dissipate or dissolve on the skin. Despite the cosmetic advantage of not leaving a pasty residue on your forehead, these nanoparticle sunscreens do not protect the skin any better. What’s more is they may pose certain risks.

Read more about how the US FDA has not required sun block manufacturers to label their products and how some supposed nano-free sunscreens are in fact not free of nanoparticles in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Thin Green Line Blog.

In related news, Spanish scientists have found evidence that bioflavonoids present in grapes and red wine may help prevent sunburn.

Once again, the headlines are misleading. Please don’t replace your sunscreen with a bottle of red wine or a bunch of grapes (if you think wine tastes gross (which it very often does). It is nice to know these foods have some additional health benefits, but they do not do the job of a proper sunscreen.

For more on that story see this report from CBS News.

Maybe in the future you can wash down your sun block pill with a nice glass of red, but until then use sunscreen (nano-free if you can find it).