August 23, 2021
By Bytewrthy
In Colloquy,Clean Label

Hide & Seek!


Nanoparticles – Tiny & Far-reaching!

Nanotechnology has been used in a vast number of industries and has brought revolutionary changes in cosmeceuticals and skincare as well. It is the study and manipulation of matter at incredibly tiny sizes. To put this in perspective, a piece of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick and a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers wide. Nanoparticles are smaller than 100 nanometers, a thousand times thinner than paper! They can be sheet-like (2-dimensional), rod or tube-like (1-dimensional), or spheres (so-called zero-dimensional, or quantum dots).

As a reference point, nanoparticles have been used in sunscreens for close to a decade. Nanoparticles’ small size makes them particularly useful in cosmetics; they may speed up a product’s penetration into the skin, enhance bioavailability and fill microscopic crevices, creating a smooth flawless look. In fact, many mineral sunscreens on the market use nano-sized zinc oxide. As zinc oxide becomes transparent at nano scale, it appears less ghostlike and is aesthetically pleasing.

Some studies have shown that, due to their size, nanoparticles can quickly make their way into the bloodstream and other parts of the body, either via inhalation or skin absorption.  But the biggest concern with nanoparticles in cosmetics is the threat of inhalation when they are used in powders and sprays. There are no solid studies showing that nanoparticles of zinc oxide can penetrate healthy human skin when dispersed in a cream or lotion. As a comparison, chemical sunscreen ingredients, which are significantly smaller than nanoparticles, are designed to be absorbed into the skin, and can easily get into the blood.

Similarly, titanium dioxide can be both safe and unsafe – When inhaled, titanium dioxide is considered possibly carcinogenic. This means that caution is required when using products that contain powdered titanium dioxide like loose powders, eyeshadows, and blushes. Given the choice between nano and chemical sunscreens, even the Environmental Working Group recommends the use of nano-sized mineral sunscreens over conventional chemical sunscreen but discourages the use of aerosolized products.

Even though nanoparticle zinc oxide (>30nm) is safe and effective for human use, studies show that very small nanoparticles (<35nm) of uncoated zinc oxide and uncoated titanium dioxide can be harmful to the environment by being toxic to marine life. Not all nanomaterials are the same though. Their properties, toxicity, and the extent to which they penetrate the skin depend on a range of factors including shape, size, surface coating and charge. The potential harm from nano products may also depend on skin vulnerability. This illustrates why it is important that all nanomaterials undergo thorough testing before they are used in consumer products.

Nanoparticles have provoked a good amount of discussion and controversy and It’s no surprise that a knowledge gap of the benefits and detriments of engineered nanomaterials, and its safety exists. Besides, skin vulnerabilities are hard to nail so consumers need to make an informed choice before using nano-based products.

As far as regulations go:

While the science is sound, whether nanotechnology actually works for a particular product and individual is a different question. There is no reason not to take caution with any “new-fangled” technology applied to products and the general consensus of clean skincare and environment proponents is that it is best to avoid nanoparticles because of their shorter record of safe use and their potential environmental concerns.

All said and done, nanotech is used in many products in our everyday life, and that makes it really tough to know if the product is 100% nanoparticle free – ingredient suppliers and brands need to be transparent for consumers to make the right choices.

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