Body, Bath & Beauty Blog

Skin Deep: Nanophobia

Posted on: December 5, 2008

I came across an interesting article in the New York Times today, New Products Bring Side Effect: Nanophobia by Natasha Singer. It’s about body products that contain very small ingredients to aid in the product’s effectiveness. 

“Toiletry companies formulate new cutting-edge creams and lotions that contain tiny components designed to work more effectively. But those minuscule building blocks have an unexpected drawback: the ability to penetrate the skin, swarm through the body and overwhelm organs like the liver.”

Should we be suspicious of these nano-sized ingredients, or welcome them for their superpowers? A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. A human hair is 500,000 to 100,000 nanometers in diameter. The whole intention of using a nanoparticle in a product is so that it CAN penetrate the skin so it can do it’s job better. But how far is too far? What may we not yet know about this technology? 

“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.”

Some materials that we are used to being harmless on the skin at a normal size may take on new roles at a nano scale. Some say the FDA needs to do more safety testing on nano scale ingredients. However, the cosmetic industry claims there’s no evidence the nanoparticles are hazardous, but have they been tested enough? What may be fine for healthy skin may not be fine for damaged skin. Yet we already use products that contain ingredients even smaller than nanoparticles. 

“The molecules in a cream are certainly going to be smaller than a nanoparticle.”
-Robert S. Langer, Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT

The FDA does require cosmetic manufacturers to assure that their products are safe to use. 

“Ken Marenus, the senior vice president of regulatory affairs worldwide at the Estée Lauder companies, said nanomaterials had to undergo the same kind of assessment for exposure, risk and dosage levels as any other cosmetic component. ‘The same toxicological standards for every chemical will apply to nano,’ he said.”

All in all, it comes down to the fear of the nano though. Are people going to trust a product that literally gets under your skin? Maybe not at first. I think things like this take time to get used to. And with time comes more testing, which cannot be a bad thing. Perhaps we’ll discover that nanoparticles are really just beneficial in the end. What do you think? Would you use a product with nanoparticles?

Read the full article, New Products Bring Side Effect: Nanophobia by Natasha Singer, from the New York Times Fashion & Style section: click here

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