One of the main constituents of sunscreen is the ZnO particles. ZnO nanoparticles are sought out for UV-filter applications thanks to their inherent optoelectronic properties and are, therefore, broadly used today in cosmetics and polymers. Preliminary toxicological data, however, point out that they can induce significant DNA damage and genotoxicity due to their Zn2+ ion leaching. It has become important for the nanotechnology industry, to devise scalable, safer-by-design approaches to minimize the ZnO nanoparticle dissolution and toxicity without altering their desired optoelectronic properties.
In their work, the researchers demonstrated a safer-by-design approach for ZnO nanorods using a scalable flame aerosol process. This technology allows for controlled synthesis of high-purity ZnO nanorods with highly crystalline core and a nanothin amorphous silica shell that improves their biocompatibility. The as-prepared nanorods exhibit high transparency in the visible range, but strong absorption in the UV rendering them suitable for use in sunscreens and polymers. Furthermore, it is demonstrated that the hermetic silica coating does not alter the desired optoelectronic properties of the core ZnO nanorods while their DNA damage potential has been 3-fold decreased.