I am becoming alarmed by the number of new high-end skin cream using nanoparticles. Nanomaterials are untested and could be dangerous especially when ingested or applied to the skin. It seems irresponsible of skin care companies and department stores to sell beauty products with nanoparticles. Someday I suspect they may be banned due to their harmful and irreversible effects on human health and the environment.
You see, once a nanoparticle enters your body, it can be very difficult to find it and get it out. A recent case in point is a paint factory in China that was using nanoparticles. In August 2009, two Chinese workers at the factory died and five more young women suffered permanent lung damage from breathing in nanoparticles. Their lungs all contained nanoparticles of 30 nanometers in diameter.
Even though they have left the factory, the five women’s lungs are still in trouble. Why? Because it can be impossible to remove nanoparticles once they penetrate human cells. "Their tiny diameter means that nanparticles can penetrate the body's natural barriers, particularly through contact with damaged skin or by inhalation or ingestion," said Yuguo Song from the Chaoyang Hospital in Beijing.
Once a nanoparticle goes in, it is unlikely to come out. The effect is cumulative over time, and eventually the body might not be able to cope. "There may be some novel mechanisms for toxicity that nanoparticles might produce," says Kevin Ausman, executive director of the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice University.
There are new reports of silver nanoparticles accumulating in plants, animals and water, and even interfering with human sperm development. Here is a recent study showing that women are inhaling nanomaterials when putting on cosmetic powders like those from Colorescience.
Therefore, I am concerned about the increasing presence of “luxury” nanoparticle face creams and sunscreens. Using the precautionary principle, no one should use these products. They could do permanent damage to the unsuspecting citizens who buy them. At least 70% of what you put on your skin is absorbed into your body. Would you eat nanoparticles for dinner? If not, then let’s just say no to nanoparticles in beauty products.
Products To Avoid:
Chantecaille Nano Gold Energizing Cream ($420): “Pure 24 karat gold is wrapped around silk microfibers and delivered directly to your skin”
Euoko Eye Contour Nanolift ($300): Contains synthetic bio-engineered ingredients. The founder Dr. Rammal was previously involved in nanotechnology R&D for cosmetics with Dow Corning.
Chanel Calming Emulsion
Christian Dior DiorSkin Forever Compacts and Extreme Wear Flawless Makeup: “Inspired by nano-technology”
L’Oreal Revitalift: Contains patented Nanosomes that “transport the Pro-Retinol A deep into the epidermis.” L'Oréal is one of the largest nanotechnology patent holders in the US.
Lancome Renergie Morpholift (owned by L’Oreal)
Kerastase Nutritive Oleo Fusion Treatment: “Penetrates the hair fiber thanks to the Nano-Emulsion technology” (owned by L’Oreal)
Many Mineral Sunscreens: This is the most prevalent area of nanoparticle use to date. Nanoscale zinc oxide and titanium dioxide were detected in most of the US-marketed mineral sunscreens products tested by Consumer Reports. Ironically, these mineral products are often labeled "chemical-free" or "for sensitive skin" so consumers think they are buying the healthier alternative. If a sunscreen contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and says "goes on clear," beware of nanoparticles ahead. Offenders include Avon, Pond’s, Nivea, The Body Shop, SkinCeuticals, Burt’s Bees Chemical-Free, Colorscience, and many others. Be especially careful of sprays and powders (easy to inhale) and lip products (easy to ingest).
The safest sunscreens right now tend to be mineral sunscreens that go on white and chemical sunscreens that contain Mexoryl SX. Avobenzone (Parsol 1789) is less bad than oxybenzone, a known endocrine disrupter.
In general, try never to put a nanoparticle product on broken skin. Also, do not inhale or ingest a product with nanoparticles because it will more easily contaminate the body's living tissue.
For more products, please see this Database of Nano-Products
Say No to Nano, Say Yes to Eco
A certain luxury department store in San Francisco told me this week, “The demand for these nanoparticle creams is high.” Ok but so is the demand for cigarettes and guns. This reminds me of the line General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner used to say: “The demand for SUVs is high. We are just building the cars that people want to buy” -- regardless of their impact on the planet. He is now out of a job.
The nano defense normally sounds like this: “Because the particles are so small, they are absorbed much more into the skin.” That is precisely what makes them so dangerous. No company has studied the long-term effects of this experiment. We need more tests and regulations now. Companies should have to indicate on labels when their products contain nanoparticles.Just as we can eat organic food without pesticides, we can use many ecofabulous beauty products that harness the best of nature’s rejuvenating talents. My favorites to date are Weleda, Amala, Ila Spa, Eminence, REN, and Jurlique. For example, the Amala Rejuvenate Cocoa Bean Treatment Oil contains 98% organic ingredients. You can be a natural beauty and protect your health at the same time.
For more information about nanoparticles in sunscreens and other popular products, please see these reports from Friends of the Earth.
See also "Nanotech An Environmental Threat" posted in Popular Science. It is good to know that I am not the only one worrying about this!
To see the growing list of products containing nanomaterials, please see this impressive Nanoparticle Product Database from the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies.
Nanomaterials in Food
There is growing evidence that nanoparticles are now appearing in food. For example, the organization As You Sow has discovered nano-sized titanium dioxide used as white food coloring in powdered sugar Dunkin' Donuts. Read the full story in Scientific American. Testing of additional products by As You Sow is underway. The precautionary principle would say to avoid these items until they are verified to be safe. A nano-scientist said to me recently, "We have no idea if nanoparticles are safe for human consumption in the long term or not." Just as with GMO food, we need labeling so that consumers can at least make an informed choice. In an ideal world, products would be designed to be safe and healthful from the beginning. Why make a toxic product when you could make a beneficial one?