If you are like most cosmetics consumers, nanoparticles are just one of many five-syllable ingredients in your beauty loot that are a mystery. That big word is code for a teeny, tiny material that may be dangerous to you, and the FDA is making changes to ensure you know what it means and when it’s present in your product.
What are nanoparticles?
The doctor weighs in: Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in the Dermatology Department at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City explains that nanotechnology is the use of very small particle sizes in cosmetics to allow a product to feel lighter and smoother on the skin. It is commonly used in sunscreens.
In a Reuters report, a representative from Avon said the makeup manufacturer uses nanomaterials such a titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in the brand’s products. The result is a higher level of protection from UV rays with the added benefit of a transparent application that’s free of a white cast.
Why are nanoparticles potentially dangerous?
With nanotechnology, materials are designed and manufactured at the scale of one-billionth of a meter. When compared to the width of an average human hair, nanoparticles are about 40,000 times smaller — so small in fact, that they cannot be seen with a regular light microscope. While nanotechnology can produce a smoother application when it comes to your lipstick or facial cream, it also poses a threat to penetrate your skin or leach into the environment, according to the National Academies of Science. Zeichner says that although the FDA recently issued guidance on nanotechnology to set up standards for safety testing there is still currently not sufficient data to suggest that these products are harmful to the skin.
What about Europe?
According to the policy director of The International Center for Technology Assessment, Jaydee Hanson, The European Union requires companies to prove a nanotech product is safe before it can be sold to consumers. By contrast, the FDA has only issued voluntary guidelines for companies. The US is getting on board three years after the EU raised the red flag on nanoparticles. Prior to the USDA’s proposed changes, most ingredients were required to be “generally recognized as safe” in order to be sold.
New regulations on nanoparticles are in response to growing concerns including a 2006 consumer group petition calling attention its “unique human health and environmental risks.” The FDA’s guidelines will no longer include nanotechnology in the same category and companies will be required to provide additional safety details before their products can be approved for sale.
Learn More and Participate
The 90-day public comment period on the new guidelines the FDA proposed on April 27 concerning nanoparticles in cosmetics comes to a close next month. The 29-point document includes documents, studies and test reports that examine the toxicity of nanoparticles in beauty products, scientific advancements as well as the broader implications for the environment.