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Skin Deeper: Nanotechnology and Cosmetics

Skin Deeper: Nanotechnology and Cosmetics

Deeper, faster, further. As if there weren’t enough concerns about the toxicity of cosmetic chemicals, manufacturers are rushing to incorporate nanotechnology that uses particles 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Nanotechnology has been touted as the next revolution in cosmetics and packaging. However, nanoparticles, being so tiny, have the potential to penetrate unusually deeply into the skin and organs, causing exotic physical effects.

Animal studies show that some nanoparticles can penetrate cells and tissues, move through the body and brain and cause biochemical damage. As one example, carbon fullerenes–also called buckyballs, and currently being used in some moisturizers–can cause brain damage in fish, and even low levels of exposure can be toxic to human liver cells. The health impacts of nanomaterials in cosmetics and sunscreens remain largely unknown, pending completion of long-range studies that have only recently begun. But that’s not stopping the cosmetics industry from leading the charge to incorporate the inadequately tested technology into products we put on our faces and in our hair.

“In one of the most dramatic failures of regulation since the introduction of asbestos, corporations around the world are rapidly introducing thousands of tons of nanomaterials into the environment and onto the faces and hands of hundreds of millions of people, despite the growing body of evidence indicating that nanomaterials can be toxic for humans and the environment,” said a May 2006 report by Friends of the Earth. The group filed the first-ever legal challenge on the potential health impacts of nanotechnology in a 2006 petition to the FDA, demanding that the agency monitor and regulate nanoparticles in cosmetics.

Hundreds of personal care products already contain nano-sized ingredients, and thousands more contain ingredients that are available in nano form but don’t include information about particle size on the labels, according to a Skin Deep analysis. Since nano-sized ingredients are absorbed differently into the body, they require separate safety studies. But as Iane Houlihan noted, “Manufacturers seem to be following the pattern they established with conventional chemical ingredients–put poorly tested chemicals into personal care products and do the science later, if at all.”

With no safety framework and little government oversight, the cosmetics industry is operating in a virtual Wild West. And the West has gotten wilder still.

• Nanoemulsians in shampoo encapsulate active ingredients and carry them deeper into hair shafts.
• Nanosomes of Pro—Retinol A penetrate the skin’s surface to soften wrinkles and reduce the appearance of fine neck creases.
• Nanovectors transport and concentrate active ingredients in the skin.

In the absence of federal regulations, some cities are trying to get a handle on the situation. Berkeley, Calif., became the first city to regulate nanotechnology in December 2006, and other cities may follow suit. Under the Berkeley law, companies and research labs that make or use nanoparticles must disclose that fact to the city government and provide information about known health or safety risks.

Adapted from Not Just A Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry by Stacy Malkan (New Society Publishers, 2007).

Read more: Beauty, Holistic Beauty, Make-Up, , ,

Adapted from Not Just A Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry by Stacy Malkan (New Society Publishers, 2007).

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


+ add your own
1:52AM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

Stop testing crap on animals!!!

1:51AM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

Stop testing crap on animals!!!

1:38AM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

No offence, but, old publication, old news. What's new in the nano industry?

12:56AM PDT on Apr 4, 2014

This is really interesting.

6:08PM PST on Feb 7, 2013

Thanks Melissa.

12:29PM PST on Feb 7, 2013

Thanks for the info.

3:47AM PST on Jan 17, 2012

Go Berkeley!

6:46AM PST on Mar 2, 2011

Forgive me ... I have so little time, so I am just here for points for the animals ...

10:42AM PDT on Mar 22, 2009

at last s
omeone needs to inform our future generations of the dangers involved in the industry of cosmetic makeup and so on. at least if we are made aware we can pass this message on to our own children and so on. never again will i use anything with ingredients that are proven to be harmful in any way. the world we liv in today unfortunately revolves around money.

8:14AM PDT on Aug 11, 2008

Many fine cosmetics carry very natural products such as Co Q10, hylauronic acid,
Vitamin A, E and C, aloe vera gel, DMAE and Alpha Lipoic Acid. You can take these vitamins internally for extra great skin care.
For myself, I'm a braniac (wow, what an ego!) when reading as I always must-what I'm going to put on my face, I look for most all of these things and it's true-very few can be found in our department stores. Try serums, too like Vit. C or Seaweed Serums, K serums, and there are others, but they must contain at least one intensive ingredient I've listed above.

The best skin care I've used and continue to use is ALWAYS at my health food store.
I find everything I need for good and even great skin care health.

Hope this helps.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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