Nano-Particles in Skin Care & Cosmetics - Should We Be Concerned?

Recently, ingredients manufacturer Kobo launched a range of non-nano titanium dioxide and zinc oxide UV filters for use in sunscreens.The company found many consumers are concerned with the possible health risks of nanoparticles in cosmetics, skin care, and sunscreens.

Nanotechnology is the science used to shrink chemical particles to 100 nanometers wide, which is roughly 1/100,000 of the thickness of a piece of paper. Smaller than blood vessels, these nanoparticles are able to penetrate the skin far more deeply and faster than regular chemicals. 'Invisible' zinc, used in sunscreens to avoid the white appearance of the cream, is created by using this technology.

Fears have been expressed from many quarters that this technology is being increasingly used in the products we apply to our skin and is racing ahead of the research that is done to find if there are repercussions.

Some studies have concluded that in healthy skin, these minuscule particles are unlikely to cross the skin barrier and enter the body's system. Other researchers have found in their experiments that nanoparticles do, indeed penetrate deeper and have been found to accumulate in organs. Quoted from an article published in The Economist magazine, November, 2007:-

"Research on animals suggests that the nanoparticles can even evade some of the body's natural defense systems and accumulate in the brain, cells, blood, and nerves"

In a study at the University of California, LA, researchers have found a potential risk of cancer and genetic disorders for individuals working with high concentrations of Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles.

Consumers were advised to avoid food colors, vitamins and non-essential drug additives containing this ingredient as well as spray-on sunscreens as these particles can be inhaled.

Further human studies are needed to truly understand the health effects of titanium dioxide nano, according to the scientists. "Some people could be more sensitive to nano exposure than others. I believe the toxicity of these nanoparticles has not been studied enough" said Robert Schiesti, one of the authors of the article published in the Journal of Cancer Research (1)

It appears there are no labeling requirements in most countries, and so consumers are not even informed if the products they use contain nanoparticles.

In March 2010, the UK Government nanotechnology strategy was released with the aim to develop the technology to benefit the economy and consumers. The strategy plans to address barriers to the growth of the technology and is committed to mandatory labeling of nanoparticles in cosmetic products by 2013.

The British consumer magazine 'Which?' has criticized the strategy, claiming the British government "...has dodged some central issues around nanotechnologies, such as the need for a mandatory reporting scheme and plugging research gaps" said Peter Vickery-Smith CEO of 'Which?' He went on to say "This strategy was supposed to deliver clear direction to drive this technology forward - instead, the government has rehashed old news and failed act on many concerns"

The consumer magazine believes there should be a pre-market assessment and approval of products developed using nanotechnology as well as a compulsory reporting scheme for companies using nanoparticles as ingredients.

In some countries debate on the safety of nanotechnology has become volatile. French environmental group Pieces et Main d'Oeuvre (PTO) have consistently protested at meetings held to debate the technology. Organized by the Commission of Public Debates held from October 09 until January 10, the PTO has disrupted meetings claiming all important decisions had been made.

German citizens have been warned by Germany's Federal Environment Agency (UBA) against using products containing nanoparticles while risks to the environment remain unknown.

UBA claims there are significant data gaps that need to be explored concerning human health and the environment even though the German government created a nanotechnology commission. The UBA agency believes the first step for a legal framework should be compulsory labeling and a register to list all nano-containing products. This would provide a transparent development of the technology; there are over 800 companies in Germany producing a large number of consumer products that incorporate nanoparticles. These products include cosmetics and sunscreens.

The agency is far from condemning all nanoscience. Nano plastics for cars and planes reduce their weight contributing to fuel efficiency.

A research team at EPA will be investigating the use of nanomaterials, particularly titanium dioxide used in cosmetics.

A recent study at Biomedical Science Institute in Northern Ireland demonstrated a possible link between nanoparticles and brain disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Increasing amounts of nanoparticles are finding their way into waste-water streams from personal care and cosmetic products, pharmaceutical and food products as well as industrial waste. It is largely unknown how these tiny particles interact with current wastewater treatment systems.

I don't know about you, but it appears to me that we need to be very concerned about nanotechnology and the obvious lack of checks and balances worldwide.

At the very least consumers should be provided with the concise labeling of products containing nanoparticles in the ingredients, so informed choices can be made by the individual.

If all the world's people are agitating, and not just those who are often labeled 'greenies' in a derogatory way, but scientists and researchers whose life work is to test for anomalies then it might be a good idea to stand behind them and pressure our respective governments and authorities to ensure the safety of the products we use daily on ourselves and our families.

(1) Source: Journal of Cancer Research
2009, volume 69, issue 22
Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles Induce DNA Damage and Genetic Instability in vivo in Mice

Benedicte Trouiller, Ramune Reliene, Aya Westbrook, Parrisa Solaimani, Robert H. Schiestl

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