Which Is Better: Nano or Non-Nano Zinc Oxide Sunscreen?

Choose mineral sunscreen for a healthier fun-in-the-sun experience. But, not all sunscreens are created equal. Here's why you should always choose non-nano zinc sunscreen over nano zinc sunscreen.

Choosing the right sunscreen is essential for both enjoying your time in the sun and protecting your skin's health.

Zinc oxide has been used for decades as a sunscreen and is generally considered safe. However, when it comes to zinc oxide sunscreens, you must read labels carefully! Not all ingredients are created equally…and this difference can come down to a nanoparticle! When it comes to your health and the environment, choose non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen over nano-zinc oxide. Particles in non-nano zinc oxide are too large to penetrate the skin, protecting the body from potentially harmful chemicals. So, why is non-nano zinc oxide better than nano zinc oxide, and how do you shop for non-nano zinc oxide sunscreens? Read on to learn more!

What is Zinc Oxide Sunscreen?

Spend time outdoors to support your mental and physical health. However, even if your interactions with the sun are brief, they should be done wisely. Apply sunscreen to your body whenever you spend time outdoors. Just be careful of the types of sunscreens you use. 

Chemical sunscreens often contain compounds such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and avobenzone, which absorb UV radiation but can also penetrate the skin and potentially cause allergic reactions. Even worse, they can disrupt your hormones [1]. 

Instead, use mineral sunscreens like those made with non-nano zinc oxide. First, let’s talk about zinc oxide. 

Zinc oxide is an inorganic compound that forms a fine white powder. When applied to the skin, the powder performs a protective barrier. 

This mineral effectively reflects and scatters both UVA and UVB rays away from the skin. This makes zinc oxide an effective broad-spectrum sunscreen agent [2].

Zinc oxide sunscreens come in different forms, including nano and non-nano formulations. These variations affect the sunscreen's texture and appearance on the skin. Let’s explore the differences between nano and non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen.

What Are Nanoparticles in Sunscreen?

Enjoy the sun without worrying about burning your skin…or exposing yourself to harmful chemicals. Select mineral sunscreen over chemical sunscreen. 

While mineral sunscreens are better than chemical sunscreens, they do come with their own challenges. For one, they don’t glide on easily as chemical sunscreens, which can cause your skin to look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. 

So, to create mineral-based sunscreens that are both effective and user-friendly, manufacturers often use nano-sized versions of minerals like zinc oxide (and titanium dioxide). 

A nanoparticle is incredibly tiny, measuring in billionths of a meter (nanometers) in size. Since they’re smaller, they reduce the white cast left behind on the skin. 

While this sounds like a benefit, nanoparticles do raise a large concern. Some studies show minimal evidence of significant absorption of nanoparticles through the skin [3]. For example, one study found that less than 0.01 percent of zinc from sunscreen entered the bloodstream after human volunteers applied it twice daily for five days [4]. 

However, other research suggests that nanoparticles can still be absorbed and may lead to toxic side effects in skin cells [5]. The problem is that zinc oxide may cause health issues in small doses [6]. 

Small particles can be difficult for the lungs to clear and might pass into the bloodstream. They could even potentially damage the gastrointestinal tract if swallowed [7]. So, don’t use lip balms that contain nano zinc oxide.

When it comes to your health, it’s always best to err on the side of caution, especially if there are safer alternatives available. Let’s take a closer look at non-nano zinc oxide. 

What Is Non-Nano Zinc Oxide and Why Is It Better?

Non-nano zinc oxide is a form of zinc oxide where the particles are larger than 100 nanometers. It’s made by grinding zinc oxide into a fine powder, but not so fine that it becomes a nanoparticle.  This larger size ensures they do not penetrate the skin. 

With greater particles comes greater responsibility. Applying non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen to your body may cause some white streaks on the skin that are challenging to rub in. 

To apply non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen without it appearing too white, follow these tips:

  1. Warm the sunscreen between your hands before applying it to your skin to help it spread more evenly. 
  2. Apply non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen in small sections, working the sunscreen into the skin thoroughly. 
  3. Don’t rub in too much too vigorously. Take your time. Give yourself a massage. Enjoy the process! 

How to Avoid Harmful Chemicals in Products, Including Sunscreen

Avoiding harmful chemicals in products, including sunscreen, starts with reading labels carefully. Look for sunscreens labeled as "mineral-based" or containing active ingredients like non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide. Avoid products that have chemical filters, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and avobenzone. Reduce the chances of purchasing harmful sunscreens by selecting Million Marker Approved Sunscreens for your fun-in-the-sun excursions! 

For a more personalized approach, consider using Million Marker's Detect & Detox Test Kit. This kit allows you to test your urine for common harmful chemicals like oxybenzone, phthalates, parabens, and bisphenols. By understanding what is inside your body, you can identify which products are causing the highest exposures and get tailored recommendations to minimize these risks. With this knowledge, you can make more informed choices about the products you use, helping you feel your best and maintain better overall health.


[1] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00204-020-02865-5 
[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0190962299705323 
[3] https://www.bath.ac.uk/announcements/new-study-says-nanoparticles-dont-penetrate-the-skin/ 
[4] https://academic.oup.com/toxsci/article/118/1/140/1664509 
[5] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333713961_Skin_toxicity_of_topically_applied_nanoparticles 
[6] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0960327116629530
[7] https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/sun-safety/about-sunscreen/nanoparticles-and-sunscreen