Nanoparticles in Cosmetics: Still a Steep Learning Curve

The development of nanoparticles for use in consumer products has created great and previously unimaginable possibilities. The performance levels of products using nanomaterial’s has raised dramatically, resulting in a new expectation standard for consumers. However, the issue of safety in the use of engineered nanoparticles is not a new topic either. For years, regulatory bodies have been assessing the potential hazards that may be associated with the use of these materials. On April 8 2014, MIT published a report on a study performed at MIT in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health. The study found that some nanoparticles may damage DNA. The cause of this DNA damage is attributed to the formation of free radicals (reactive oxygen species) which have to ability to enter cells and damage nucleotides. Zinc oxide, a common nanoparticle ingredient in sunscreens, was one of the substances found to damage DNA. Lead MIT scientist Dr. Engelward has said “… if a nanoparticle is made out of something that’s deemed a safe material, its typically considered safe.” Not all hope is lost however. According to researchers, the technology used to obtain these results is also capable for use in development of safer nanoparticle ingredients.

Currently, the US FDA requirements do not include mandatory testing of nanoparticles. According to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg, “We are taking a prudent scientific approach to assess each product on its own merits and are not making broad, general assumptions about the safety of nanotechnology”. The Food and Drug Administration is advising all manufacturers who use nanomaterial’s in their products to consult with the FDA prior to product release. Health Canada also recognizes nanoparticles as a potential health hazard, and requires to notification of relevant information such as the use of the product containing nanomaterial’s, manufacturer information, chemical and physical properties of the nanomaterial, toxicological information, and risk assessment. In Europe, the potential hazards of nanomaterial’s are addressed in the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances) legislation. From European regulation, a chemical may have different classifications based on the size or form of the chemical due to differences in properties. This rule also applies for nanomaterial’s. A public consultation has been held last year to improve the clarity of the REACH annexes on nanomaterials, and a second public consultation is currently underway to assess transparency measures of nanomaterials on the market. Like all great scientific innovations, we are still on a steep learning curve about nanoparticles.