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  • Nanotechnology Q&A

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    Q: How would you summarize what exactly nanotechnology is, and how it has infiltrated the skin care world?

    A: Nanotechnology is simply the study and application of very small things. One nanometer is a billionth of a meter, and for comparison’s sake, a sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. A human hair is about 80,000 nanometers in diameter. This is a relatively new field, implemented about 30 years ago, and has permeated all aspects of modern science since then. From chocolate to computer chips, everyday products including cosmetics include nanotechnology nowadays. In skincare, nanotechnology has infiltrated the areas of anti-aging, sun protection and even make-up. The most widely studied and practiced area is in sun protection, as this technology allowed formulators to transcend the dreaded “white face” effect of 80s sunblock. Nowadays, sunscreen filters are no longer a thick block, but part of a sophisticated formula that allows for ultraviolet A and B (UVA/UVB) protection, along with other skin benefits, to be easily and transparently applied to skin.

    Q: How might nanotechnology change consumer wants and needs in anti-aging? What does it mean for product development in skincare?

    A: Nanotechnology is not yet the norm, so consumers may not even be aware that some of the products they are familiar with contain nanomaterials. Moreover, manufacturers are not required by US law to tell the US FDA whether they use nanomaterials in their products, so consumers again may not know that these are in their products. The more the technology is enhanced and advertised, the more consumers will be aware and curious about the technology and the products using it. This will mean manufacturers will have to be careful as to the nanomaterials used, as many of these do not have a lot of scientific data backing up their safety.

    Q: Why is nanotechnology important? What are some of the benefits?

    A: Nanotechnology is very important in many science fields. For example, a transdermal patch vaccine using nanosized particles would be more efficient and perhaps cheaper than a normal vaccine administered with a syringe (especially in third world or remote areas). In terms of technology, this will help with the invention of new materials that may help with space exploration, “smart” fabrics, etc. The possibilities seem to be limitless.

    Q: What are some of the detriments or possible risks of nanotechnology, and why is it controversial?

    A: Nanotechnology can be detrimental only in that we do not have a lot of scientific data supporting some of the safety of these materials. For instance, a very tiny particle may have different properties than its full-size component. This change in function may not have safety data yet and can pose risks to users. One major controversial nanomaterial in skin care is in the form of buckyballs. These are minute soccer-ball looking particles that are shown to be antioxidants, which we know from vitamins can fight premature aging of the skin. The problem is their size. Concerns around these mini-balls are that these nanoparticles may slip and potentially get into bloodstream, affecting our immune system.

    Q: Are there some uses of nanotechnology that are safer than others (for example, it appears there have been some important advances in suncare)?

    A: FDA and other global government organizations like EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) have reviewed the safety on some of the sunscreen filters that have been micronized such as Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. As of recent, these have been deemed safe for use as sunscreen filters on human skin. In fact, the European Nanoderm project concluded that “we do not expect any adverse health effects for the topical application of sunscreens containing TiO2 nanoparticles (especially when coated) on healthy skin which are related to the particulate state.”

    A recent Cosmetics & Toiletries article also summarized that the SCCP in 2009 found “the use of zinc oxide in its non-nano form to be safe. As a consequence, micronized zinc oxide was approved for use as UV filter, e.g. in Germany, with the prerequisite of a yearly renewal of the approval.”

    Q: When making buying decisions, what are good questions to ask to figure out which products/treatments with nanotechnology are safe or beneficial, and which are not?

    A: It is up to the consumer to do some homework here. Nanosphere technology in cosmetics is not yet regulated in the United States by the FDA, therefore there is no way to determine whether nanospheres in cosmetics deliver toxic substances into the body and bloodstream. There is some good data backing the nano particles in sunscreens, so at the moment these are deemed safe. More research into the safety of these materials will be made by government agencies like the FDA and should hopefully provide more clarification for consumers.

    As seen in American Spa Magazine