Blushing on the Inside…Nanotechnology and “Cosmeceuticals”

Nanotechnology refers to controlling matter at an atomic and molecular level.  The nerd in me is fascinated by our ability to split matter into such small particles.  So small in the case of nanoparticles, that its size is scaled down to 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.  I recently heard of this going on in the food industry but I’ll leave that subject for a rainy day.  Today I’d like to focus on nanoparticles and how they’ve changed cosmetics into “cosmeceuticals” .

To get a deeper understanding of nanoparticles in action, let’s look at the history of sunscreen.  There was a time when we lathered on oils to promote golden colouring.  At some point in the 80’s we were alarmed to hear that excessive sun exposure and sunburns could cause skin cancers. We immediately reached for sunscreens that contained benzophenone, homosalate and octyl-methoxycinnamate, freaked out when we heard how bad they were for us and then reverted back to old school zinc oxides and thicker creams.  They were fun for a few minutes but the market was really demanding all the protection with zero filmy goop on our skins.

Enter nanotechnology; we chopped, diced, minced, split and spliced the particles so that they became small enough to soak right into the skin and disappear…without a trace.

While that example is about sunscreen, nanoparticles have found their way into thousands of personal care products.  In Japan for instance, they’ve recently invented toothpaste with “nanofied” enamel to help build stronger teeth. Mineral makeup uses nanoparticles to improve the appearance of the product. The shimmery pulverized minerals in nano-sized eye shadow, blushes and face powders gave the cosmetics a smoother, more glowing appearance.

Jennifer MacDougall, co-founder of Earthlab cosmetics, a Kelowna BC based company that hand crafts a signature mineral line is one of the front liners against the use of nanotechnology when it comes to make up.  The whole point of differentiation Earthlab enjoys is its ability to provide women with non-toxic options that don’t sink into the skin.  “Very little is known about nanotechnology and yet it’s the hottest trend in make-up.  Awareness is everything and opting for natural solutions can change your whole self-image”.

As we know, the FDA does not regulate the cosmetics industry as tightly as it should.  This is particularly alarming when we’re dealing with the evolution of “cosmeceuticals” where we’re actually allowing the substances to become part of our makeup.  Eye shadow that appears to radiate from inside the lids ironically, seems much more natural than the superficial kind of makeup we’ve had to deal with for so long.  And “glow” is hot right now making mineral blushes and bronzers all the more popular.

Nanoparticles are different from the original normal-sized matter.   The fact that particles this size can be absorbed into the skin and into the bloodstream or inhaled, is causing significant concern about their safety in the use of everyday cosmetics.

It’s believed that healthy skin provides a safe barrier from particle absorption but damaged or flexed skin may allow those particles to come into the body where they accumulate in our tissue and organs.

The EWG has done an in-depth study finding that at least one third of their surveyed products contain nanoparticles of some sort on the ingredients list.   Here’s a list of the ingredients and the products in which they were detected.  EWG is urging the FDA to conduct more studies and to make labeling mandatory.

On an interesting note referring back to the safety and sunscreens, apparently the FDA had nothing to do with the elimination of skin-damaging PABA in sunscreens.  According to EWG, the only reason PABA is out of products is because manufacturers reformulated after enough consumers complained about allergic reactions. Sadly, the FDA still allows PABA in sunscreen, but companies know that it is too risky to use.

In the interest of time, I won’t detail the results from the toxicology studies that have taken place over the past couple of years but I would like to point out that nanoparticles are contributing to your overall toxin load.

Try to avoid nanoparticles by reading the labels of your personal care products and avoiding ones with terms like:

  • Micronized
  • Fullerenes
  • Anything with the “nano” prefix
  • Quantum dots
  • Liposomes

Stick with mineral make up that uses titanium dioxide in cream form rather than powder form.

Don’t fret, there are plenty of options out there.  Keep an eye on the labels…now you know.


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