What are Nanoparticles?
by guest blogger Amber Evans
What are nanoparticles and why should they concern me?
The scientific definition of a nanoparticle is: a piece of material so small that its size is measured in nanometers or billionths of a meter. In layman’s terms, it’s simply a super-tiny particle of matter. Their minute size is exactly what’s cause for concern. Let’s explore this further…
What’s the big deal about nanoparticles (NPs)?
The reason they’re getting so much press right now is because the medical industry (including biological engineering) is enamored with the research possibilities.
Nanoparticles are thought to possibly be the next step in improving digital imaging and cancer detection, according to Radiological Society of North America. “Nanoparticles hold the promise to not only diagnose, but also treat different cancers,” Kattesh V. Katti, Ph.D., has stated.
So why are we writing about nanoparticles on the Toxic Beauty Blog?
Nanoparticles are added to cosmetic and personal care products because of their micro size to enhance absorption of ingredients. But do we really want this to happen if the ingredients are toxic?
Recent studies also prove how NPs interfere with bodily functions. Our friends in the biomedical engineering industry have discovered that large doses of polystryene nanoparticles affect how well chickens absorbed iron into their cells.
If these nanoparticles are in our foods, vitamins, and cosmetics, they could possibly be conflicting with our bodies’ natural processes as well.
Polystryene is described as a “common FDA-approved material found in substances from food additives to vitamins,” the Science Daily states. When the scientists tested more concentrated exposure to the polystryene nanoparticles, they found that the human body cells gave an “unexpected” physiological response, which was the decrease in iron.
The scientists then said that this particle is more or less harmless and it causes these changes; therefore, what will the bad nanoparticles do?
This limited research proves more research is necessary and in the meantime, the best approach is avoid all products containing nanoparticles as we don’t know how they will affect our bodies and internal organs. However, this is hard to do as products containing such micro particles are not even required to be labeled!
Back in 2009, Science Daily reported nanoparticles in cosmetics could adversely affect the environment. But as human exposure to nanoparticles increases, “it’s unclear whether the benefits of nanotech outweigh the risks associated with environmental release and exposure to nanoparticles” (Science Daily, March 2009). So not only can they affect our bodies negatively, but they can also upset the delicate environmental balance.
If we think about it, simple common sense shows us the scientists’ concern about how nanoparticles affect the earth ultimately means humans. The nanoparticles are, after all, being dumped down drains and ending up in municipal plants. This means they’re in ground water, landfills, etc.
And since nanotechnologies could end up aiding cancer diagnoses, it is probably worth exploring further… but at what cost?
In theory, nanoparticles are actually a perfect technology to use in the cosmetic industry, after all, because they are so tiny (microscopic, like a cell) and can penetrate deeply into the skin.
Titanium dioxide NPs are already being used in sunscreens so that the cream becomes virtually invisible. But do we really want titanium dioxide or other cosmetic ingredients to penetrate as deeply as our organs?
L’Oreal is even researching how to deposit things like vitamin E deeply into the skin using nanoparticles. We all know that anything applied on the skin enters the bloodstream, but the size of the NPs allow it penetrate even deeper, which is where the problems begin.
Articles as far back as 2003 can be found when researching NPs. What follows are a few of the unsettling results.
- Are toxic to cells in the immune system
- Can cause free radical production in the body which damages cells
- Are more likely to cause plaque accumulation in the arteries (from NPs in air pollution)
Despite these harmful results, the FDA still approves products containing NPs and don’t even require companies to put them on the labels. So it seems that even today, we still ponder the question, “what are nanoparticles and are they safe?”
What are your thoughts? Are you wary of nanoparticles in your cosmetics? If you knew a product contained NPs, would you avoid it?
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