Nanotechnology – Nano on the label

Nanomaterials (whose constituents are between 1 billionth or 100 billionth of a metre) have been used in cosmetics for years; as nanoemulsions, in sunscreens and as carriers. From 11 July 2013, under EU cosmetic regulation 1223/2009, all ingredients present as nanomaterials will have to be indicated on the package with the term 'nano' in brackets. Amid ongoing debate over the risk such ingredients pose to human health, SPC assesses the implications

MJ Deschamps looks at the debate around the use of nanomaterials in personal care products and the impact of upcoming EU legislation requiring their labelling

Nanomaterials have been finding their way into cosmetics and personal care products for years now. But until recently, the term meant different things to different manufacturers and almost nothing to consumers. It was not until the European Commission (EC) came out with a common European Union (EU) definition for nanomaterials last October (materials whose main constituents have a dimension of between 1 billionth and 100 billionth of a metre, or 0.000000001 metre) that cosmetics companies finally gained a clear guideline under which to define certain properties of their products.

Many nanomaterials claim to offer value through enhanced product performance. According to market research firm Mintel, the top ten claims associated with personal care products using nanotechnology (as a percentage of total nano launches, some with multiple claims) are moisturising/hydrating properties (46%); botanical/herbal products with nanomaterials (45%); long lasting effects (28%); better nutrition through vitamin/mineral fortified products (28%); faster speed of effects (22%); anti-ageing (20%); antioxidant (20%); brightening/illuminating (18%); UV protection (17%); and enabling the avoidance of using additives/preservatives (13%).

Nanoemulsions are transparent and have properties that allow them to increase the content of nutritious oils while preserving transparency and lightness in cosmetic formulas. Meanwhile, nanopigments such as titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) are used primarily in sunscreens for their capacity to reflect and scatter UV light and, according to the US based Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), the use of small particles results in a clear, protective barrier that is easier to apply and “more aesthetically pleasing” in texture than earlier, opaque versions with larger particles. Other nanoscale materials such as carbon fullerenes (also known as buckyballs) are used because of their antioxidative properties, according to the PCPC, while nanosomes are small droplets of ingredients produced through careful mixing that, when applied to the skin, dissolve and release their content onto the surface to more effectively deliver moisturising ingredients.

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