Consumers are bombarded with warnings related to dangers brought about by consumer and health care products. There always seems to be something wrong – from ingredients in your skin lotion to the lipstick you use. If you are regularly up to date on health concerns related to cosmetics and skin care, then you’ll definitely be familiar with the controversy surrounding a lot of chemical ingredients like parabens, SLS, phenoxyethanol and even mineral oil. Today, we also see growing concern over nano particles, which are common ingredients found in sunscreen and mineral makeup. What are nano particles, and is there real danger or is this just something that is overhyped?
What Are Nano Particles?
Nano particles do not refer to a specific compound or chemical, but refer to kinds of particles that are very small. So small in fact that they are measured in nanometers – which happens to be a billionth of one meter. To understand how small it really is, here are some comparisons:
- One strand of hair is around 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers in diameter
- One sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick
- One DNA strand is 2.5 nanometers in diameter
Where Are Nano Particles Found?
Two common sources of nanoparticles today are sunscreens and mineral make up. They come in the form of the minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are pulverized into nano-sizes ranging from 1 to 100 nanometers and are used as main ingredients for these products. What is ironic is that these were introduced in sunscreen and skin care after controversies surrounding conventional sunscreen ingredients like homosalate, benzophenone, octyl-methoxycinnamate which were toxic and easily absorbed on the skin. This led to the rise of old-school ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are now under scrutiny as well.
What’s Wrong With Nano Particles?
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are generally safe to use on the skin (as they offer a reflective layer and are not absorbed by the pores). Numerous studies show that ZO and TD particles cannot cross the skin barrier. In fact, they are the top ingredients chosen by the Environmental Working Group because they do not break down in the sun, provide good protection from UVA rays and offer sun protection with the most minimum health concerns.
The problem, however, lies in its size. Because nano-particles are so small, you might inhale it. There is a great chance that this may happen, especially if you use a loose powder product or apply sunscreen too close to your nose. Once inhaled, the lungs will have a hard time clearing out these very small particles, causing them to enter the bloodstream, giving toxins free access to the body. In fact, even nanoparticles that are non-toxic in nature can cause problems as well. They can also be inhaled and can cause difficulty in breathing.
What Does That Mean For Mineral Make-Up?
If you are a fan of mineral make-up, this may be a cause for alarm considering the fact that ZO and TD are two of its main ingredients. What is important to note is that not all mineral make-up lines make use of Nano Technology. They use non-micronized minerals, which range from coarse to fine, but are generally large enough to be considered safe.
What Should You Do?
Let’s admit it – many products use nano-particles as ingredients, but not all of them do. Because there are no regulations on use and labelling, the solution lies on you as a consumer, and how well you make your choices. Thus, when you are looking for mineral makeup or sunscreen which contain these metal oxides, always check for those with “non-micronized” particles. While this tip can help, it can be difficult, because regulatory boards in the cosmetics industry does not require brands to note if they are using nano particles or not. Your best bet? Do your research and read – many brands openly state that they do not use NanoTechnology in their products, so you can stick with these options. Our cosmetic products, for example, makes use of larger and coarser mineral particles, and do not contain any micronized minerals that may be harmful to your health.
It also helps that you be careful when you apply loose powder or foundation – don’t swish your brush in the air or puff too much on your face. Keep them away from kids, and (as one makeup guru said): don’t snort your makeup! I think that sounds like a good idea.