by guest blogger Ava Anderson, natural-beauty expert and safe-cosmetics advocate
What are they? Nanoparticles are miniscule particles, measured in billionths of a meter, that have introduced a new generation of potentially risky and broadly used ingredients into personal care products. Many of these ingredients’ health effects are not fully studied or understood, and are largely unregulated.
Why are they used? Pulverizing minerals to nanoscale particles gives the product a smooth, glowing appearance. It’s ironic that nanoparticles have come into wide use in sunscreens because consumers are trying to avoid harmful chemicals, and instead are turning to “old school” physical barrier blockers, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Unfortunately, those substances make creams and lotions heavy and white, so to satisfy consumers’ preference for clear sunscreens, manufacturers turned to miniaturizing these metals (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) so the products go on clear while still providing sun protection. Many consumers think they’re making the wiser choice by using these mineral sunscreens, yet are unaware of the new dangers.
Where are they hiding? Research by Friends of the Earth shows that nanoparticles “have entered just about every personal care product on the market, including deodorant, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, anti-wrinkle cream, moisturizer, foundation, face powder, lipstick, blush, eye shadow, nail polish, perfume and after-shave lotion.”
Why should we avoid them? According to Friends of the Earth, research shows that, “nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, one of the most commonly used cosmetic ingredients, can move across the placenta of pregnant mice, resulting in brain damage and reduced sperm production in male offspring.” The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics says, “preliminary research has shown that many types of nanoparticles can be toxic to human tissue and cell cultures, resulting in increased oxidative stress, inflammatory cytokine production, DNA mutation and even cell death. They can penetrate cell walls, including organ tissues, and are known to be highly reactive.”
How do we avoid them? The only way to avoid absorbing nanoparticle-size metals is to check labels to see if the company has listed the ingredient as “zinc oxide (non nanoparticle >100nm).” If it isn’t listed in this manner, the only way to be sure is to speak directly with the company. If manufacturers use nano or micronized materials, be sure to kindly tell them that you will no longer purchase their products until the nanoscale particles are removed. In Europe, nanoparticle-size metals must be listed on the label, for example, “Titanium Dioxide (nano)”, giving consumers the ability to make an informed choice. Certainly, avoid any product touting nanoparticles as though it is a benefit.
Final thoughts: Cosmetic manufacturers say that it’s not yet proven that nanoparticles enter normal, unbroken adult skin, however it needs to be noted that many nanoparticles are used in products containing “penetration enhancers” designed specifically to increase skin absorption of ingredients. Until the U.S. employs the precautionary principle, choose your products wisely, read labels, and make the calls. Winnow your needs to the basics; find safe replacements and stick with them.
At Ava Anderson Non-Toxic, we never use nanoparticles. Just say “NO” to NANOs.
At the age of 15, Ava Anderson launched her own line of personal care and home-cleaning products, Ava Anderson Non-Toxic. Now 20, Ava is educating hundreds of thousands of American families annually on the issue of toxic chemicals in personal care products through her line, which now includes baby, skin, face, hair, body, scents, bugs, candles, home, sun, and pet products. A sophomore at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Ava actively helps run her multimillion-dollar empire with 17 full-time employees. Her goal is to help force a paradigm shift on the issue of toxic chemicals in products.