When nanotechnology entered the world of cosmetics, we all hailed it. It promised to bring improved performance, and aesthetically more pleasing results (read: smoother skin surface and glowing complexion). Cosmetics giants rushed to incorporate nanomaterials into their production processes and today there are hardly any cosmetic manufacturer that do not offer nano-enhanced products.
The research on nanotechnology that followed, though, found that nanoparticles were damaging the environment by destroying useful microorganisms. This raised the question of the safety of nanoparticles for the human health. Ever since then, eminent scientific bodies in Europe and the US have been warning the manufacturers that the health risks of nanoparticles have to be thoroughly investigated before the products are commercialized. Although there is still a lot of work to be done to establish the exact effects of these particles on human health, the researchers are advocating against their use. Here is why.
What are Nanoparticles?
Nanoparticles are nanoscale particles, ranging between 1-100 nanometers in diameter. To get an idea how small they are, we will tell you that they are 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, or that they are as big as 1/5,000th the thickness of a sheet of paper.
The widespread use of nanoparticles in cosmetics is due to the advantages they have over their large-scale counterparts, which are directly related to their particle size. Some of the advantages include improved UV protection, stronger structure, improved electrical conductivity, improved texture, and longer shelf life.
The most common types of nanomaterials that are used in personal care products are:
- Liposomes (for their enhanced absorption by skin)
- Nanoemulsions (for their ability to prolong the shelf life of personal care products)
- Nanocapsules (for their controlled release)
- Solid lipid nanoparticles (for their enhanced UV blocking)
- Nanocrystals (for more effective passage through skin)
- Nanosilver and nanogold (for their enhanced antibacterial properties)
- Dendrimers (for better delivery of active agents)
- Cubosomes (for their low cost and potential for controlled release)
- Hydrogels (for their prolonged effect on the place of application)
- Buckminster fullerene, or buckyballs (for its potential to scavenge free radicals and slow down the aging process).
It all started with sunscreens. Iron oxide and titanium dioxide have been used in sunscreens because of their powerful UV blocking properties. However, conventional bulky iron oxide and titanium dioxide usually leave a white coating on the skin, which most people find unpleasant. Here is when the ultra-tiny versions of these ingredients were invented to make the sunscreen transparent. Ever since then, nanoparticles are being incorporated in other personal care products, such as: deodorants, perfumes, moisturizers, anti-aging creams, toothpaste, soaps, lip balms, and lipsticks, shampoos, etc. Nevertheless, despite claiming that nanoparticles are safe, many companies seem eager to hide the use of engineered nanoparticles in their products.
What are The Potential Risks of Using Nanoparticles?
Emerging research data suggest that the size-dependent properties of nanoparticles, which make them more efficient than their bulk cousins, are their biggest disadvantage at the same time. Most of the ingredients used in cosmetics are too big to penetrate the skin, but when they are moved to a nano level, their size allows them to penetrate deeper, and enter the cells more easily. Once there, they can even alter cell DNA, thus causing serious health repercussions.
If you use a deodorant containing nanoparticles and you accidentally inhale it, it gets embedded in the lung walls, the body cannot remove those foreign particles, and so they accumulate. In the best case scenario, this might lead to lung inflammation. In the worst case, it can produce toxic effects.
The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens is particularly concerned about titanium dioxide, which has the same effect on the lungs as asbestos, and can cause lung cancer. When used in a non-airborne form though, Titanium dioxide is considered safe. However, studies suggest that when nanoparticles reach the bloodstream, they may lead to extensive organ damage. The rate of absorption of nanomaterials through the skin is yet to be determined, but it is known that they pass through more easily than conventional materials. Whenever you apply a nano-enhanced product to your skin, you are taking a risk. Sunscreens have been the subject of debate due to their function as skin cancer shield. Zinc oxide is considered the safest protector from UV rays, but there are justified concerns that in the form of nanoparticles, and in contact with heat, it promotes the production of free radicals. This paradoxically increases the risk of skin cancer.
Note: Not all commercially available types of zinc oxide, iron oxide and titanium dioxide are nano. There are two types – micronized (nano) and non-micronized (non-nano). Following extensive research in this area, we are confident about the superior quality and safety of the non-nano sized ingredients used in our products (this includes both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide).
The zinc oxide and the titanium dioxide we use is considered fine with particles between 1 and 2 microns. As a nano or ultra-fine particle it measures less than 0.1 microns (100 nanometers), our ingredients are well above the nanoparticle threshold and cannot, under any circumstances, penetrate the skin.
La Mav’s Anti-Aging Minerals are formulated with the finest natural earth minerals and infused with Vitamin C and Pure Organic Rosehip Oil to not only provide flawless finish but also protect your skin from the harmful UV rays and prevent premature aging. Click here to discover La Mav's Anti-Ageing Minerals Range.
What Can You Do to Avoid The Risk?
Researchers noted that more studies need to be conducted in order for them to be able to say for sure what nanoparticles may do to our health. In the meantime, they advise on trying to avoid products formulated with the help of nanoparticles. Expel nanoparticles from your life by checking the labels on the cosmetic products you use. Better safe than sorry.
Have in mind, though, that the field is vaguely regulated and manufacturers are not required to mention the use of nanoparticles on their labels. If in doubt whether your favourite cosmetic line contains nanoparticles, call the manufacturer and ask. Or switch to those companies that you know do not use it. And stop worrying about the white stains from your sunscreen. White means safer.
Credits: Article & Product Images: lamav.com