Jan 6

Nanophobia: Just when you thought it was safe to put sunscreen on

Always on the forefront of beauty, Ms. Natasha Singer published a recent article in The New York Times detailing the fears that now surround nanotechnology as used in the cosmeceutical industry. For those unfamiliar, nanotechnology is the name designated for dealing with particles 100 nanometers or smaller [a nanometer being one billionth of a meter (10-9 meter)], and in particular developing materials and devices of that size.

It was not too long ago when every cosmetic company was falling over itself in declaring its use of nanoparticles in their product- whether it was silver flakes to kill bacteria or gold flakes as antioxidants. However, more recently you see most companies shying away from bold declarations of their use of nanotechnology. Why?

Turns out when a particle is simply made smaller–macro to micro–the changes are not necessarily significant; but when you become nano, there are new quantam mechanical effects where the electronic properties of solids are altered. So, how do you test for these changes? For example, what happens to a nanoparticle of titanium dioxide in a sunscreen which can be as small as 15 nanometers? And if these particles are small enough to be absorbed through the skin, what happens to them once they get into the bloodstream or into the liver and kidneys?

Ms. Singer notes, “Indeed, some doctors, scientists and consumer advocates are concerned that many industries are adopting nanotechnology ahead of studies that would establish whether regular ingestion, inhalation or dermal penetration of these particles constitute a health or environmental hazard. Personal care products are simply the lowest hanging fruit.”

Truth is, I don’t know if anyone has concrete answers for these questions. Heck, I don’t even understand how the companies are making particles this small or checking for this. And, despite the recent blog posts, we are not out to be the bogeymen…we just think that when it comes to medical and cosmetic products, there should be enough studies to show that these things are safe before they hit the market–not after-market stories in the Times hinting that no one really knows…


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