Scientists use laser imaging to assess safety of zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreen

November 30, 2011

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30--Ultra-tiny zinc oxide (ZnO) particles with dimensions less than one-ten-millionth of a meter are among the ingredients list of some commercially available sunscreen products, raising concerns about whether the particles may be absorbed beneath the outer layer of skin. To help answer these safety questions, an international team of scientists from Australia and Switzerland have developed a way to optically test the concentration of ZnO nanoparticles at different skin depths. They found that the nanoparticles did not penetrate beneath the outermost layer of cells when applied to patches of excised skin. The results, which were published this month in the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Biomedical Optics Express, lay the groundwork for future studies in live patients.

The high optical absorption of ZnO nanoparticles in the UVA and UVB range, along with their transparency in the visible spectrum when mixed into lotions, makes them appealing candidates for inclusion in sunscreen cosmetics. However, the particles have been shown to be toxic to certain types of cells within the body, making it important to study the nanoparticles' fate after being applied to the skin. By characterizing the optical properties of ZnO nanoparticles, the Australian and Swiss research team found a way to quantitatively assess how far the nanoparticles might migrate into skin.

The team used a technique called nonlinear optical microscopy, which illuminates the sample with short pulses of laser light and measures a return signal. Initial results show that ZnO nanoparticles from a formulation that had been rubbed into skin patches for 5 minutes, incubated at body temperature for 8 hours, and then washed off, did not penetrate beneath the stratum corneum, or topmost layer of the skin. The new optical characterization should be a useful tool for future non-invasive in vivo studies, the researchers write.
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Paper: "Characterization of optical properties of ZnO nanoparticles for quantitative imaging of transdermal transport," Biomedical Optics Express, Vol. 2, Issue 12, pp. 3321-3333 (2011).

EDITOR'S NOTE: Author interviews and images of the ZnO particles in excised skin are available to members of the media. Contact Angela Stark, astark@osa.org. This summary is part of OSA's monthly Biomedical Optics Express tip sheet. To subscribe, email astark@osa.org or follow @OpticalSociety on Twitter. For images or interviews with authors, please contact Angela Stark, astark@osa.org or 202.416.1443.

About Biomedical Optics Express

Biomedical Optics Express is OSA's principal outlet for serving the biomedical optics community with rapid, open-access, peer-reviewed papers related to optics, photonics and imaging in the life sciences. The journal scope encompasses theoretical modeling and simulations, technology development, and biomedical studies and clinical applications. It is published by the Optical Society and edited by Joseph A. Izatt of Duke University. Biomedical Optics Express is an open-access journal and is available at no cost to readers online at http://www.OpticsInfoBase.org/BOE.

About OSA

Uniting more than 130,000 professionals from 175 countries, the Optical Society (OSA) brings together the global optics community through its programs and initiatives. Since 1916 OSA has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing educational resources to the scientists, engineers and business leaders who work in the field by promoting the science of light and the advanced technologies made possible by optics and photonics. OSA publications, events, technical groups and programs foster optics knowledge and scientific collaboration among all those with an interest in optics and photonics. For more information, visit www.osa.org.

The Optical Society

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