Getting under your skin

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  • In a recent inventory of nano-related products [for more

    details, see Maynard, A., Nano Today (2006) 11 (2), 22],

    over 200 were found in consumer goods from sporting

    equipment to computer processors. According to a recent

    report from Friends of the Earth, there are 116 of these in

    cosmetics and related skincare products. The groups

    report, Nanomaterials, Sunscreens and Cosmetics: Small

    Ingredients, Big Risks (available on their website at:, calls for a

    moratorium on the commercial release of all products

    containing nanomaterials until they have been subject to a

    rigorous health and environmental safety assessment.

    Friends of the Earth argues, contrary to many regulatory

    authorities, that nanomaterials should be considered as

    new chemicals since they can have properties substantially

    different from their bulk or even micro-sized counterparts.

    It is not difficult to pick holes in such a blanket

    generalization of the risks of nanomaterials. The report

    itself reveals a number of crucial ifs to the argument:

    nanomaterials could be a worry if they are significantly

    different in behavior from their bulk or micro-sized

    counterparts. Nanomaterials in cosmetics and skincare

    products could be a problem if there is demonstrable proof

    that such materials can penetrate the skin. (Initial results

    on the skin penetration of nanoparticles is conflicting.) The

    production of nanomaterials could be a problem to

    workers or the wider environment if there is exposure and

    if there is evidence to suggest that such exposure is

    (potentially) harmful. Very little data currently exists on

    these points, especially with relation to the environment.

    However, the report does highlight some very important

    issues. A big question hangs over whether nanomaterials

    should be treated the same as their bulk counterparts in

    terms of safety regulation. Despite many calls for action,

    governments and regulatory bodies around the world are

    being slow to act on this point. The Food and Drug

    Administration (FDA) in the US, for example, seems to be

    woefully underestimating the number of nano-related

    products on the market or their significance. The issue of

    nanomaterials in cosmetics and skincare products is, it

    seems to me, a small part of a much larger question of

    how closely (or otherwise) ingredients in such products

    should be regulated. According to Friends of the Earth,

    only 11% of the 10 000+ ingredients used in cosmetics

    have been safety assessed under the Cosmetics Industry

    Review Panel. We should be just as concerned about the

    safety of new chemicals as we are about new nano-

    ingredients. Friends of the Earth are not the first to

    suggest that industry should make their safety data

    publicly available, but to little avail.

    While there are no doubt some legitimate concerns about

    nano-ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products, it

    seems that nanotechnology is bearing the brunt of more

    general concerns about what is in the products we use.

    Editorial Advisory PanelTakuzo AidaUniversity of Tokyo, JapanGang BaoGeorgia Institute of TechnologyFlemming BesenbacherUniversity of Aarhus, DenmarkLuis Liz-MarznUniversidade de Vigo, SpainDan LuoCornell University

    E. W. MeijerEindhoven University ofTechnology, The NetherlandsChad MirkinNorthwestern UniversityC.N.R. RaoJawaharlal Nehru Centre forAdvanced Scientific Research, IndiaJohn RogersUniversity of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign

    Francesco StellacciMassachusetts Institute ofTechnologyMauricio TerronesInstituto Potosino de InvestigacinCientfica y Tecnolgica, MexicoZhong Lin WangGeorgia Institute of TechnologyMark WellandUniversity of Cambridge, UK

    George WhitesidesHarvard UniversityYounan XiaUniversity of WashingtonPeidong YangUniversity of California, Berkeley


    An environmental group is callingfor a ban on nanotechnology-ingredients in cosmetics andskincare products.Cordelia Sealy | Managing Editor |

    Getting under your skin

    AUGUST 2006 | VOLUME 1 | NUMBER 3 1

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