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By: Steve Herman
Posted: August 3, 2010, from the August 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Fullerenes, however, are a class of nanoparticles that have created safety concerns with some researchers. Carbon nanotubes have shown asbestos-like pathogenicity in mice. On the other hand, nanotubes have successfully been used to aid drug delivery. The safe and effective use of nano delivery systems obviously requires close study.

Addressing Safety

It is well-known that surface chemistry of materials such as these can affect toxicity, and, fortunately, the surface chemistry can be engineered to enhance safety. So far, there is no evidence of nanoparticles in beauty products being a health problem, but on the flip side, there is little conclusive proof that they are safe. There is a movement to consider nanomaterials as new chemicals and to have them tested as such.

Since there is no premarket approval of cosmetics by FDA, its regulatory approach to nanotechnology is cautious. The FDA Task Force, in 2007, basically stated that nanotechnology applications in personal care seemed safe from a toxicology and biological perspective4—but it would be nice to know more. For example, there is a need to develop standard particle characterization methods. The task force found no need to specifically label nanoparticles on products. Of course, brand owners are still responsible for marketing safe products, regardless of specific regulations.

In Conclusion

Nanotechnology is a broad field with many potential applications in beauty. With so much emphasis on efficacy for skin and hair products, there is no doubt that nanoparticles and nanoemulsions will continue to be exploited by formulators for the elevation of brand performance. A public attracted to technology and the effective delivery of actives will be attracted by “nano” on the label, and Feynman’s prediction will continue to prove true—there is plenty of room at the bottom.

The NYSCC Spring Seminar on Nanotechnology (April 21, 2010) was very helpful, with special thanks to Amy K. Madl and Jay M. Ansell for kindly providing copies of their presentations.