17 May 2006

Nanomaterials in Cosmetics = Mega-Concerns

Friends of the Earth has just released a report that will make anyone who uses cosmetics or sunscreens think twice about the products they are buying:
The report, titled “Nanomaterials, Sunscreens and Cosmetics: Small Ingredients, Big Risks,” details the extensive use of newly developed and poorly understood substances called nanomaterials in more than 116 sunscreens, cosmetics and personal care products currently on the market—despite a lack of independent safety assessment and regulation. The report also surveys a growing body of scientific research showing that many types of nanoparticles pose risks to consumers, workers and the environment.

Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of materials and the creation of structures and systems that exist at the scale of atoms and molecules. A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter. By way of comparison, a DNA molecule is roughly 2.5 nm, a red blood cell 7,000 nm and a human hair cell a whopping 80,000 nm wide. The existing body of toxicological literature indicates that nanoparticles have a greater risk of toxicity than larger particles.

Cosmetics companies are using ingredients that include nano-scale metal oxides, carbon spheres called “fullerenes,” and “nanocapsules” designed to penetrate deeper layers of skin. Friends of the Earth believes its survey represents only a small sample of the cosmetics and personal care products containing “free” engineered nanoparticles now on store shelves...

In a 2004 report, the United Kingdom’s Royal Society—one of the oldest and most respected scientific bodies in the world—recommended “ingredients in the form of nanoparticles should undergo a full safety assessment by the relevant scientific advisory body before they are permitted for use in products.” Despite this warning, companies are rushing to incorporate nanomaterials into their products and cosmetics in a vacuum of independent safety testing. Two years after the Royal Society’s report, there are still no laws governing the use of nanomaterials in consumer products to ensure they do not cause harm to the public using them, workers producing them, or environmental systems into which waste nanoproducts are released.
It doesn't take a microbiologist (or a nanobiologist, either) to realize that nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and carbon fullerenes - all of which are now found in many moisturizers, cosmetics and sunscreens - can easily penetrate not only cell membranes, but the cell nucleus where they play havoc with mitochondrial processes (cell metabolism) and DNA. The likelihood of toxicity and mutations - that is, cancer - is just too great to be ignored. But what are Health Canada, the FDA, and similar agencies in other countries doing about this issue? IGNORING IT! That's right, boys and girls - these nanosubstances, which should be classified as new chemicals because their nano-size changes their chemical and biological reactivity, are considered no different than their relatively macro-sized precursors.

Here is the full report, Nanomaterials, sunscreens, and cosmetics: Small ingredients, big risks [pdf]. It makes for frightening, but tremendously important, reading:
In one of the most dramatic failures of regulation since the introduction of asbestos, corporations around the world are rapidly introducing thousands of tons of nanomaterials into the environment and onto the faces and hands of millions of people, despite the growing body of evidence indicating that nanomaterials can be toxic to humans and the environment.

Our research demonstrates that nanoparticles have entered just about every personal care product on the market, including deodorant, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, hair conditioner, sunscreen, anti-wrinkle cream, moisturizer, foundation, face powder, lipstick, blush, eye shadow, nail polish, perfume and after-shave lotion.

Memo to L’Oreal, Revlon, Estee Lauder, and the other cosmetic companies using such technologies: Aren't you the least bit afraid of the inevitable lawsuits? Or do you think that you'll get off by claiming insufficient scientific evidence linking nanomaterials to cancer? Or, let me put this another way: Would you let your wife or daughter use such stuff?
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