Sunscreens, Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide and Color Cosmetics
We have spent fifteen years and countless hours doing environmental, cancer and cosmetic research and have made a good bit of it available to everyone on our web site. It is interesting to us that very few companies do the research that we do, with the quality of links and references that we provide. Fact is, what we see most often is a lot of hype, and sites representing misinformation and touting synthetic ingredients as "all natural" even "organic."
Despite having federal regulations in place for organic food, the USDA has, thus far, declined to step in and regulate the use of the word "organic" for body care items. We met with Richard Mathews, the director of the National Organic Program, over a year ago and pleaded with him to take action to regulate companies that represent bottles full of chemicals as "organic." It seems that our company was the only personal care products company to meet with him and ask for strict regulation of body care products that use the word "organic." Apparently, we are outnumbered by chemical companies not wanting to be regulated--companies who want to call any synthetic chemical "organic," even "certified organic."
We have been members of the Organic Trade Association's Personal Care Task Force for the past two years and we are frustrated by how we always seem to be the lone voice speaking out against the use of chemical detergents, oleochemical emollients and chemical preservatives being used in products labeled "organic." We are also disturbed by the fact that we are even discussing synthetic chemicals in the first place as we believe that synthetic oleochemicals, petrochemicals and reactive materials and/or nanoparticles like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide have no business being in products that are labeled "organic."
So, though the USDA is not regulating the word "organic" for body care products right now, we see this as a temporary situation as we plan to continue to work within the industry, with the Organic Consumers Association and through Capitol Hill to have body care products exceed or, at minimum, meet the standards for foods WITHOUT tweaking and twisting the rules or the original intent of the organic philosophy. We will also continue to educate our friends and customers so that they will feel empowered to join with us in our campaign to save organic from being diluted and devalued by chemical interests.
Fortunately, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) federal regulation has provided us with some excellent ammunition for our battle. The NOP contains, what appears to be, the first legal definitions of the words "synthetic" and "nonsynthetic." These crystal clear definitions are, perhaps, the most important aspect of the organic regulations.
So, first, let's just clear up this "natural" thing once and for all. Following are the definitions from the USDA NOP site: (a reputable source)
Nonsynthetic (natural). A substance that is derived from mineral, plant, or animal matter and DOES NOT undergo a synthetic process as defined in section 6502(21) of the Act (7 U.S.C. 6502(21)). For the purposes of this part, nonsynthetic is used as a synonym for natural as the term is used in the Act.
Synthetic. A substance that is formulated or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that CHEMICALLY CHANGES a substance extracted from naturally occurring plant, animal, or mineral sources, except that such term shall not apply to substances created by naturally occurring biological processes.
Click here to go to NOP Standards
It is very important for all to note that, while we could make a "sunscreen" product and cash in, we aren't doing that. In fact, we had a well-known client, for whom "money was no object," who hired us to make a sunscreen and, after researching the currently available materials for nearly eighteen months, we declined to continue with the project. It could have been a lucrative opportunity for us, but we knew that we could not make a sunscreen product in good conscience. Everyone knows how troubled the public is over this issue and, frankly, it would be very easy to take advantage of people who are confused and worried about cancer. We are not willing to take chances on potentially biased sunscreen chemical data provided by the manufacturers of such products (particularly since we continue to find increasing numbers of contradictory studies from reputable sources). To us this is the fox guarding the henhouse. It is also a well-known fact that "medical" studies can be designed to produce the results that someone decided they wanted to see. It is our opinion that it is very important to determine who is doing the "study," why they are doing it, who is paying for the study and if they are also buying advertising in the journal that publishes the study. In addition, our conscience does not permit us to expose others to potential risks that we would be unwilling to take ourselves.
Folks often ask how we protect ourselves against the sun and we have always shared our rational and practical opinion which is this: avoid the sun during the peak hours of the day and, if one must venture out, one should wear a large hat, sunglasses and tightly woven, loose fitting cotton (organic would be great) clothing, preferably light blue in color (hopefully dyed with a botanical dye and an environmentally friendly mordant) as a light blue color has been said to reflect the most UV rays. It is also our opinion that one should venture out for five to ten minutes at least once or twice every day, if only to get away from the computer screen and stretch the legs, even if it's raining.
We really dislike spending our ever-so-limited time getting involved in debates about synthetic ingredients like nanoparticulate titanium dioxide (TiO2) with those who would profit from making and selling them. [ "Though the market for nanoparticles will approach one billion dollars next year..." See the ETC Group's full article] We prefer to spend our time in meaningful discourse with folks who are interested in our broad and alternative ecological vision...yet, here we are writing about synthetics. Oh, how we wish we could be sleeping or gardening instead! Our dream is to change the way that people think and to get them to think outside the conventional box of "well, we do it this way because that's the way that everybody else does it" or "well, that's the way that it's always been done." We think that it would be great if we could get folks to explore new and innovative uses for renewable and certified organic materials as alternatives to synthetic products.
We hope that with our research, we can also help to raise awareness about ingredients that are environmentally UNfriendly in their manufacture (in our opinion, environmentally Unfriendly means harmful to humans and wildlife) and that may have a question as to their safety.
Following are two quotes from and a link to a very well-written web site from a reputable supplier of pigments that outlines chemical manufacturing techniques of titanium dioxide:
"The feedstock for the chloride process is a mineral rutile or synthetic beneficiates containing over 90 percent TiO2. A suitable ore blend is mixed with a source of carbon and the two are reacted in a fluidized bed with CHLORINE at approximately 900°C. (1650 degrees!) The reaction yields titanium tetrachloride, TiCl4, and the chlorides of all the impurities present."
"...to ensure efficient sulfation by agitation with concentrated SULFURIC ACID...."
"The pulp is then separated from the mother liquor and extensively washed to remove residual traces of metallic impurities, using CHELATING AGENTS if necessary. The washed pulp is TREATED WITH CHEMICALS which adjust the physical texture..."
Click here to got to Titanium Dioxide Link
"whilst TiO2 may improve the durability of an organic binder (paint or plastic) by adsorbing ultra-violet radiation, free radicals are produced at its surface which leads to photocatalytic breakdown."
Find the quote from above here:
Click for TiO2 photocatalytic info
Our opinion about the vast majority of synthetics is to avoid them as much as possible. As we uncover more information, it is always possible that our opinions may change or our convictions may become stronger. Whatever the future brings, we hope that we will always remain open to change, to enlightenment, as we do believe in kaizen (constant improvement).
Having cancer can be a funny thing--it can make you into an extremely cautious person and give you a new perspective on life. Cancer made me realize that I love my life, my partner, my cats, my friends and my garden and that I need to do everything that I can to have as much time as possible to be with my loves. Do I garden in the bright sunlight or in the peak hours of the day? No. I learned to adjust my life schedule so that I can have my pleasures, but without exposing myself to too many unnecessary risks. Was this a hardship or an extremely difficult thing to do? Absolutely not!
Working in the garden on our farm, as the sun comes up over the mountain with the mist rising up from the little river in the valley, is one of the most zen moments of this beautiful life. I heartily recommend that everyone try gardening at sunrise, at least once. Alternatively, I find immense satisfaction to be had in weeding in the cooler hours of the late afternoon and early evening as our bees are returning to their hive. The perfume of the valerian and the lilies are at their greatest intensity in the evening and the sunsets can inspire one to great poetic depths.
Vacationing at the beach in these enlightened times, the year 2004, and baking oneself during peak hours of the day is, in my opinion, irresponsible and completely avoidable. To continue to expose oneself to these conditions in our environmentally troubled days with our damaged ozone is, in my opinion, old-fashioned and unscientific and a gamble not worth taking. I also don't think that it's fair to me, other cautious people and wildlife that unthinking or uncaring humans take these risks and experiment with questionable sunscreen chemicals at the water's edge and wash them off their bodies and into our waterways. We have one planet and all of our water is linked to all of the water around the world. We all have to share the water that we have on this planet and I sincerely wish that more people would become considerate of our concerns about our tainted waterways.
"Nano's Troubled Waters: Latest toxic warning shows NANOPARTICLES cause BRAIN DAMAGE in aquatic species and highlights need for a moratorium on the release of new nanomaterials"
Click here for Nanoparticle Brain Damage link
Governments around the world have found sunscreen chemicals in bodies of fresh and salt water AND these chemicals have been found in the bodies of fish that humans and other animals consume. Sunscreen chemicals have even been found in human breast milk. Our own Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and progressive scientists from around the globe have established the estrogenic potential of many of these chemicals. Endocrine disruptors can lead to cancer. Cancers overwhelm and threaten to bankrupt our over-burdened "health" care system. Don't we have enough crises already?
We recommend the book "Sunscreen Photobiology, Molecular, Cellular and Physiological Aspects" for folks who would like more technical information on the technical aspects of sunscreens. This volume, however, is not the only source supporting the technical info related to the instability of titanium dioxide AND zinc oxide. Here is a statement from a reputable cosmetic industry trade journal:
"Titanium dioxide AND zinc oxide are commonly used in drug and cosmetic products. Contrary to belief, Sayre and co-workers (Cosmetics & Toileteries Oct. 2000, 75) have shown that these physical sunscreens are not photochemically inactive. Although adequate coating can reduce the risk, an increase in the destruction of photolabile skin lipids is not desirable. The photo-peroxidation of unsaturated skin lipids may result in perturbation of the lipid environment of viable cell layers and degrade skin surface lipids. "
The Washington Post (a reputable source) reports on current scientific concerns about TiO2 NANOPARTICLES:
"Titanium dioxide, for example, is a generally nonreactive substance used in many products, including skin lotions and house paints. Increasingly, however, it is being made in the form of nano-size particles. And tests show that they are HIGHLY REACTIVE, generating chemically "hot" free radicals that can literally burn up bacteria. That has some experts worrying about impacts on soil ecology if the particles are released."
"Some sunscreens have ultraviolet-absorbing nanoparticles so small they cannot reflect light, making them invisible."
The Post nanotech link:
Click here for the Post article
"One thing we've concluded is whatever these things [NANOMATERIALS] are going to do, they're NOT INERT. What will they do when they get in the environment, and what will they do when they GET INTO PEOPLE?" 2. Dr. Vicki Colvin, professor and co-director of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology, Rice University, Texas
(a reputable source)
"According to Dr. Wiesner, tests that measure the accumulations of materials in the livers of laboratory animals have demonstrated that NANOPARTICLES ACCUMULATE WITHIN ORGANISMS and that nanomaterials, even inorganic ones, HAVE BEEN ABSORBED BY LIVING CELLS. 8. [At their mid-March fact-finding meeting, Wiesner informed EPA officials, 'We know nanomaterials have been taken up by cells. That sets off alarms. If bacteria can take them up, then we have an entry point for nanomaterials into the food chain.']"
(a reputable source)
"The nanomaterial itself may be benign, but, in the same way that proteins will bind to nanomaterials in the bloodstream, TOXINS, such as PESTICIDES, COULD BIND WITH NANOPARTICLES IN WATER, facilitating their transport (into the body)."
"The point is we don't know what accumulated amounts of any human-made nanomaterial will do in our LUNGS or our LIVERS or in our GROUNDWATER, even if we do know how bigger particles of the same material behave in our lungs and livers and groundwater. And so far no one has bothered to find out."
See the above quotes in this link from ETC Group (Click to go to ETC Group)
on Nanoparticle technology: (a reputable source)
Click here for the ETC Group's Nanomaterial article
Also from ETC Group:
"1997 - TITANIUM DIOXIDE/ZINC OXIDE nanoparticles from sunscreen are found to CAUSE FREE RADICALS IN SKIN CELLS, DAMAGING DNA. (Oxford University and Montreal University) Dunford, Salinaro et al.(8)" (a reputable source)
"January 2004 - Research by Dr. Gunter Oberdorster is published showing that NANOPARTICLES ARE ABLE TO MOVE EASILY FROM THE NASAL PASSAGEWAY TO THE BRAIN. "The nanotechnology revolution may design particles that are very different chemically from the ones we are exposed to, and they might have very different properties that made them more harmful. We should be vigilant." Professor Ken Donaldson, University of Edinburgh(13)" (a reputable source)
(Another excellent reason to not powder your nose with color cosmetic powders!)
"Though the market for nanoparticles will approach one BILLION dollars next year, neither government regulations nor labeling requirements exist in ANY country. Because nanoparticles are composed of elements and compounds whose toxicity is well-studied at larger scales, they have been assumed safe even though they can exhibit WILDLY DIFFERENT PROPERTIES from their larger siblings."
See the ETC Group's article here
Zinc oxide in our waterways: (a reputable source)
Read the waterway report here
Here's our opinion about wearing non-botanical color cosmetics: they are unnecessary vanity items and their manufacture and use is harmful to life on the planet. I view cosmetics made from metal ores (as opposed to plant dyes) (and other synthetic chemicals such as hair dyes) as I view second-hand cigarette smoke and wish I didn't have to be exposed to the chemical pollution from the manufacture and use of these products. If people could find a way to indulge their vanity without effecting my lungs, my brain, my life, my friends and all of the wildlife on the planet, then I say go ahead and indulge. Just don't dump your stuff in my air or water. Please. (Someone needs to speak for the animals who have no voice to speak out about all of the human body care products being dumped into THEIR water, their home. This dumping of chemical body care products into the water is a terrible form of animal cruelty.)
I base my opinion on synthetic color pigments from technical info about how they are manufactured. (they are synthetic according to the USDA definition of the word synthetic.) I am unhappy about the threat to the health of the planet and the environmentally UNfriendly manufacturing processes of body care ingredients that require energy-intensive fossil fuel consumption that contributes to our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign petroleum.
The FDA web site states that iron oxides are synthetic: (a reputable source)
FDA web page
For a description of the manufacturing of iron oxides color pigments:
Go here to read about color pigment manufacturing.
To see FDA color specs and general information go here
and, finally, go here.
Here are a few more interesting links about sunscreens and TiO2:
The rising rates of skin cancer -
Click here for the Mother Jones "Sunscam" sunscreen article
(a reputable source)
Bleaching Teeth -
Click here to read about Titanium Dioxide and teeth bleaching
(a reputable source)
Self-cleaning window glass -
Go here to read about Titanium Dioxide impregnated window glass
(a reputable source)