"Sunburn" by Kelly Sue

Study Finds Minimal Risk of Inhaled Nanoparticles from Sunscreen Application

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Jeremy M. Gernand, PhD, CSP, CRE Associate Professor Environmental Health and Safety Engineering Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering

Dr. Gernand

Jeremy M. Gernand, PhD, CSP, CRE
Associate Professor
Environmental Health and Safety Engineering
Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Given concern in the public about exposure to nanoparticles in cosmetics, we decided to investigate the exposure potential for inhaling nanoparticles during the application of aerosol mineral-based sunscreens that are typically marketed as safer for children. We choose three commercially available sunscreens to test in the lab in a manner intended to capture the amount of inhaled particles that would typically occur during application of sunscreen to the mid-point of one’s own arm. 

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: We found that exposure to PM2.5 (particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) during application of these sunscreens ranged between 0.4 and 0.5 micrograms per cubic meter, while exposure to particles less than 250 nanometers in diameter ranged between 0.02 and 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The measured exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) during application of each of these sunscreens was low, far below recommended exposure limits published by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide, or zinc oxide, including nano-sized titanium dioxide. This means that NIOSH would consider this exposure safe for adults, even if it persisted for 8-hours per day.

By way of comparison, the EPA considers a safe level of average yearly exposure to PM2.5, to be 12 micrograms per cubic meter, for any person, including children. The EPA does not yet have any exposure standards for PM0.1 in the environment.

We think that consumers should be reasonably confident that the inhalation risks associated with use of these sunscreens is low based on these findings and the fact that sunscreen application is typically a very short term activity.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: This was a study designed and conducted by three curious and driven undergraduate students in environmental systems engineering and materials science (Kexin Lai, Shu-Wei Looi, and Hanah Naushad), with the assistance of two graduate students (Mengfan Li and Firdevs Ilçi) and myself.

We received no funding for this research.


Kexin Lai, Shu-Wei Looi, Mengfan Li, Firdevs Ilçi, Hanah Naushad, Jeremy Gernand. Characterization of User PM Exposure During the Application of Aerosol Mineral-Based Sunscreens Shows Minimal Risk. Aerosol Science and Engineering, 2020; DOI: 10.1007/s41810-020-00079-x

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