6 November 2008 Insitute of Nanotechnology

‘Small Wonder? Nanotechnology and Cosmetics’, published by Which? on 5th November 2008

A Response by the Institute of Nanotechnology

“The survey is striking in the way it reveals very widespread use of nanotechnologies in cosmetics, especially in the form of nanoscale titanium dioxide.”- Professor Richard A.L. Jones

The Institute of Nanotechnology (IoN) welcomes the Which? report, ‘Small Wonder? Nanotechnology and Cosmetics', which examines nanotechnology and the cosmetics industry.

The report suggests that several cosmetic products contain soluble and insoluble nanoparticles, which give them specific properties. Some insoluble nanoparticles may pose a health risk, but are in the main limited to a very few kinds.

Which? proposes that:
Nanotechnology and cosmetics.
  • The Government should require companies to report their use of manufactured nano materials.
  • Potentially unsafe and illegal products should be removed from sale.
  • An independent expert group should be established to advise the Government on the risks and benefits of nano sunscreens.
  • The new EU Cosmetics Regulation should include a positive list of manufactured nano materials that are permitted to be used in cosmetic products based on an independent safety assessment.
  • Clear information should be provided to consumers about the use of nano materials in cosmetic products, as well as nanotechnology more broadly.

IoN agrees with these recommendations. The safety or otherwise of the ‘core' nanoparticles identified in the report, is already known or could be established relatively quickly; in the future, safety testing for all new nanoparticles that the cosmetics industry wishes to use should be mandatory. Furthermore, from the precautionary principle, if peer-reviewed research suggests that any nanoparticle species presently used in a cosmetic has been shown to pose a threat to human safety, then the product containing that particular nanoparticle species should be withdrawn.

The report published by Which? on Wednesday 5 th November focuses on the use of nanoparticles in cosmetics. It concludes that many cosmetic companies are already using different kinds of nanoparticles and nanotechnologies in order to achieve a wide range of effects in relation to protecting and enhancing the appearance of skin. (The preface ‘nano' in a product means that it owes its attributes to the features of some nanoscale component in the cosmetic, which is generally an active, rather than a passive, ingredient).

The cosmetics industry is far from trivial - although it is an industry that is often overlooked when Governments highlight organizations which contribute most to the economic well-being of a country. It has been calculated that more money is spent globally on cosmetics than defence - how much nicer to be a producer of moisturizing creams and lipsticks than cluster bombs and mines!

The Which? report lists the applications of various cosmetics purporting to have a nano aspect, and also the nano ingredient involved - wherever that information can be gleaned. Some companies are reluctant to divulge exactly what the nano component of their product is, partly from commercial confidentiality, but also from a nervousness about how the term ‘nano' might be perceived by the public at large. This nervousness may stem from the fact that there are no clear Government guidelines as to what kinds of nanotechnologies and nanoparticles can be acceptably used in cosmetics; and also from the word ‘nano' in the UK being often used by the media to whip up fears and anxieties about what appears to be a mysterious, complex and often incomprehensible science.

From the list of nanoscale ingredients in the cosmetic products gleaned by Which?, it seems immediately apparent that nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are key components in many cosmetic preparations. Hydroxyapatite is also mentioned, as is nanosilver. There are others, some of which have been borrowed from the pharmaceutical sector, such as soluble nanoemulsions and liposomes, which have mostly already been subjected to the rigorous safety testing required of that industry.

Anxieties as to the safety of cosmetics containing nanoparticles therefore are really hinging on the possible health risks of a relatively few nanoparticle types . Importantly, new research by nanotoxicologists is every day adding to our sum of knowledge about these nanoparticles, as to which are safe and which may pose a hazard to health.

Which? offers some recommendations based on the results of their research, with which the Institute of Nanotechnology unequivocally concurs. In order to maintain confidence in this important industry sector, Government is urged to implement the suggested actions, now.

Note: The Institute of Nanotechnology strongly supports the use of validated, cell-based toxicological procedures, and expects that the safety of nanoparticles used in cosmetics can be assessed using these procedures, without recourse to live animal experiments.

Source: Ottilia Saxl, CEO, Institute of Nanotechnology /...

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