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Cosmetics tips
[May 31, 2006]

Cosmetics tips

(Knight-Ridder / Tribune News Service Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Q: A recent news article I read reported that nanotechnology is being used in cosmetic and skin-care products such as sunscreen. There is disagreement about the safety of nanoparticles in these products, particularly in terms of absorption into the skin, and apparently little regulation by any government agency. Do you have a position on these materials? How can a consumer know if nanoparticles are in a particular product? _Natasha, via email

A: Good question, and a timely one. Nanotechnology as it is applied in many areas of science and technology is of concern because of how these particles ultimately affect the environment, water supply, and possibly wildlife as well as the health of those working to produce these materials. As it is used in cosmetics, it is also currently being debated with regard to its safety.

Nanotechnology is a method of reducing the size of a substance down to the equivalent of one-billionth of a meter in such a way that it hopefully retains its unique characteristics and benefits but is small enough _ and I mean really, really, really small enough _ to penetrate the skin and beyond. "Beyond" is part of the reason for concerns about health; another question has to do with whether we understand exactly how a substance is changed when it becomes that minute.

The debate around nanotechnology as it is used in skin-care products centers primarily on this risk of permeability. If a substance becomes too small, it will not only penetrate into the skin, but also penetrate into capillaries and veins and other parts of the body. For skin-care products, the question of safety involves whether or not you want any cosmetic ingredient, no matter how natural or otherwise, to get into the circulatory system and become systemic. I have been searching for relevant information to answer your question, and while I do think there are theoretical reasons to be concerned, I can't be any more specific than that, because there is no specific research on the subject, at least not as far as skin-care ingredients go.

Whether or not a company uses nanotechnology would not be indicated on the ingredient label because it isn't an ingredient, it's a process, and such information is not required on a label. However, many companies brag about the fact that they use nanotechnology because it makes it sound like their product is more high-tech and therefore more effective, though that absolutely might not be the case. For example, if an ingredient is that small, it might easily pass right through the skin and not stay where it is needed _ in the layers of skin _ in order to protect and rebuild.

Companies purporting to use nanotechnology may very well merely be exploiting the term, when in truth the ingredient isn't in the "nano" size range. There are no FDA regulations about use of the term, so the claim on the label can be nothing more than a euphemism. Even if nanotechnology were being used to manufacture a specific ingredient, you know as well as I do that cosmetics companies only provide wonderful, glowing comments about their products, and the manufacturers of such ingredients do the same thing. I have never found poor clinical results or seen a negative study about any ingredient or delivery system coming from an ingredient manufacturer or a cosmetics company about anything they sell or ever sold! Counting on the companies for reliable, objective information is not a good idea.

For now, unfortunately, there is no specific answer to your question, but I have added this to the issues I track in the cosmetics industry and will address the topic again as more information becomes available.


(Paula Begoun is the author of "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me (6th edition)" (Beginning Press, $27.95). Write to her at 1030 SW 34th Street, Suite A, Renton, WA 98055 or check out her Web site:


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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