Nanotechnology gets up close and personal
Consumers are using cosmetics and toiletries that contain unregulated and untested nanomaterials, says a new report.
The report released this week by Friends of the Earth (FOE),
documents 116 products it says contain nanoparticles, a large number of
which are available to Australians either in stores or online.
"We believe this represents a small fraction of the number of
products that are actually on the market," says Georgia Miller of the
FOE nanotechnology project.
Products listed in the report include well-known brands such as L'Oréal, Revlon, Clinique, Chanel and Estée Lauder, says Miller.
The Nanomaterials, sunscreens and cosmetics: small ingredients, big
risks report is based on publicly available information from
manufacturers of the products or ingredients, or retailers, says Miller.
Nanoparticles are generally those under 100 nanometres across and
manufacturers are not required to label products containing them.
And there is some concern among scientists that such tiny particles
may have toxic characteristics, yet there is limited scientific
information available on their safety.
Among their concerns are whether creams and lotions containing nanoparticles can penetrate deep into the skin.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which
regulates sunscreens in Australia, says the weight of current evidence
is that nanoparticles used in sunscreens stay on the surface or in the
outer dead layer of the skin.
But Miller points to the UK's Royal Society, which says the ability
of nanoparticles to penetrate into the skin is still unclear.
Existing studies are inadequate, says Miller, which is why there are
numerous studies on skin penetration being carried out in the US and
"We think the TGA's conclusion is very premature and irresponsible," says Miller.
Some manufacturers promote deeper skin penetration as a feature of
their nanoparticle-enhanced products, she says, pointing to anti-ageing
wrinkle creams that contain fullerenes, nanoscale carbon spheres.
"They are promoting their use of fullerenes as a positive attribute
because they claim that fullerenes enable much deeper penetration into
the skin of the anti-ageing ingredients," she says.
"In a lot of instances it's the very properties that are attractive
to cosmetics manufacturers, for example the ability to penetrate deeper
in the skin, that are of concern to us."
She says a 2004 US scientific study found fullerenes can cause brain
damage in fish, kill water fleas, and are toxic to human liver cells
even in low doses.
Cosmetics regulator welcomes report
Deborah Willcocks of the
National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment (NICNAS),
which regulates cosmetics in Australia, says her organisation is
"particularly pleased" to see the FOE report.
She says NICNAS called on industry in February this year to provide
data on what nanomaterials were being used and in what volume.
"The Friends of the Earth report is the first time we've actually
seen some published information on what products might be on the market
out there," she says. "It's a good help to us."
Willcocks says more data is required before NICNAS can determine if
nanomaterials have unique toxicological properties compared ito
materials with a larger particle size.
She says NICNAS is meeting with its industry committee today and is
proposing to set up a working group with industry and the community to
develop a strategy on how to deal with nanomaterials.
"We are concerned, that's why we're actually working on this very actively," Willcocks says.
The body representing Australia's cosmetics industry, ACCORD
Australasia, says it has only just become aware of the Friends of the
Executive director Bronywn Capanna says ACCORD and its member
companies would co-operatively with the regulatory agencies should the
report raise any relevant significant issues.
She says examples of nanotechnology used in cosmetics and personal
care products include nanoemulsions, nano-pigments and sunblocks, and
Calls for a moratorium
The UK's Royal Society recommends nanoparticles be tested and assessed as new chemicals.
But regulators disagree and say no specific safety tests are required.
"Our call is for a halt to the further release of products that
contain nanomaterials until such time as we have done the safety
assessment and we've got regulations in place to manage the risks,"
Miller says says.
The Public Health Association of Australia supports FOE's call for a
moratorium on the production and sale of products containing
"Nor do we have any surveillance going on to see if anything does
arise out of the use of nanotechnology in things like cosmetics and
sunscreens," says executive director Pieta Laut.