Unveiling the beauty of nanocosmetics, where nanoscience meets cosmetics.

article by Susan Amaral Jaigobind

In the realm of beauty and skincare, the unstoppable pursuit of innovation and effectiveness has led the cosmetic industry to explore new frontiers in science and technology. Nanotechnology is now a powerful ally. It has changed how we make cosmetics and the results we get from them. This article digs into the exciting world of nanocosmetics, unveiling which products already incorporate nanotechnology in their development and the numerous benefits it offers to our skin. We will also look at the risks and rules for keeping consumers safe. We will focus on the European Community, which leads in regulating nanotechnology in beauty products. Get ready to embark on a fascinating journey through the universe of beauty at the nanoscale!

What is nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is a science that manipulates atoms and molecules at sizes as small as 1 to 100 nanometers (1 nanometer is equivalent to 0,000000001 meters). The word combines ‘nano’ (meaning very small) and ‘techno’ (which implies technology). Nowadays scientists are actively exploring, understanding, designing, creating, and applying nanomaterials across diverse fields. The intriguing applications of nanotechnology arise from the tiny scale of these materials.

Nanoscience has widespread applications in the sectors of pharmaceuticals, biomedicals, electronics, and metallurgy, among others. Researchers have deeply explored nanotechnology in the cosmetics industry, proving over the past years that tiny particles offer several benefits, such as improving product penetration into the skin.

Many big cosmetic companies are studying and investing in nanostructures. For example, L’Oreal, the biggest makeup company, set aside 600 million USD to buy nano patents for cosmetics. Now you see how often beauty products use nanotechnology. But what makes companies so interested in using it?

Why do we use nanotechnology in cosmetics?

Nanotechnology can offer significant advantages for cosmetics. In short, it can solve four important challenges related to creating beauty products. Look at the image below to see them:

Nanocosmetics can solve four main problems in developing beauty products.

First, let’s talk about precise delivery. Cosmetic products need to reach the right place in your skin to make it flawless. Traditional skincare active ingredients often have difficulty with this issue, so they frequently rely on using large amounts of active compounds as a solution. But guess what? Nanomaterials with their tiny size can carry the actives exactly to the appropriate location in your skin.

Now, onto the second point, the improved stability. When making beauty products, it is tricky to mix watery and oily components as they tend to be in separate phases, making the product unstable. Nanotechnology facilitates the mixture of water-soluble and non-soluble ingredients in the product and allows the protection of delicate and unstable ingredients. In this way, cosmetic products are more stable and maintain for a longer time their physical and functional properties.

Nanotechnology can address another important issue: making beauty products last longer. A lot of people want their cosmetics to have a prolonged effect, especially face products like anti-aging creams. In this regard, nanostructures play a role in shielding active ingredients from external and internal factors. This includes protection against environmental stress and slowing down skin metabolic processes, helping the active ingredient stay on the skin for a longer duration.

Finally, nanotechnology improves the product’s appearance, making it more attractive. For instance, it is possible to hide ingredients that change color over time. It can also conceal active ingredients with unpleasant fragrances, like tea tree oil for example. Therefore, products are more appealing to consumers.

Now you know that nanotechnology greatly assists in the development of cosmetic products. However, did you know that numerous products already incorporate this technology? Possibly even one that you currently own?

Do my cosmetics contain nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology is already elevating your beauty routine thanks to nano-infused products.

The magic of nanotechnology has woven its spell into a wide array of beauty products. Skincare products like cleansers, moisturizers, anti-aging treatments, and exfoliators use nanotech. In this type of cosmetics, fabricators use a variety of nanoparticles, such as liposomes—a type of nanoparticle that is non-toxic and biodegradable—to carry important active ingredients like antioxidants. Then, nanotechnology enhances the stability and effectiveness of the cosmetic product.

Sunscreen formulations with nanoparticles of titanium and zinc dioxide are better in many ways. When used in nanostructures, these materials effectively block UV radiation and create a transparent formulation that consumers find more appealing than old sunscreens. The old sunscreens, with their larger particles, left a heavy and very white appearance on the skin.

Many hair products, like shampoos, conditioners, and hair sprays, already use nanotechnology. This includes hair colorants, serums, and nourishing hair masks. Companies are researching to find out how tiny particles can stop hair loss and make hair shinier, softer, and stronger. Unlike regular hair products, nanocosmetics do not harm the outer layer of your hair, and nanoparticles in conditioners add shine and softness to make your hair easier to manage.

Nanotechnology is also present in makeup like lipstick, foundation, mascara, powder, and concealer. Nanoparticles protect color pigments in makeup, making the color long-lasting on your skin. Makeup can also use the tiny particles to increase lip volume and to hydrate and fill in wrinkles.

You can also give your nails special treatment with nanocosmetics, such as nail polish, nail polish remover, and hand creams. These products work at a very small scale to make your nails stronger, more durable, and resistant. They even help your nails dry faster. And do not forget the allure of fragrances, where nanotechnology makes its presence felt in deodorants and perfumes, helping to maintain stability, and making the fragrance last longer.

As you can see, if you are a cosmetic lover, you probably own a product that contains nanotechnology. But while these products use nanotechnology to create beauty and enchantment, some caution is necessary when we are using them.

Risks related to nanocosmetics and EU regulation

When discussing the risks of using nanotechnology in cosmetics, we need to consider two main concerns. First, the toxicity it may have on our bodies. Second, the environmental problems caused by the buildup of nanomaterials.

First, let’s explore the possible dangers of nanotechnology in nanocosmetics and how it affects our bodies. While some studies assure us that these products are safe, others raise doubts. The size of the particles, their concentration, and composition all play a role in determining their safety. Depending on these factors, issues can range from mild, localized inflammation, to more serious problems such as toxic effects on human cells that may lead to diseases. It is not just about the risk of skin contact; we’re also concerned about ingestion (for example, when using lip products that might be ingested) or even inhalation. Because of this, each type of nanoparticle needs to be studied individually. The authorities review data to determine if a nanomaterial is safe for use in cosmetics.

Furthermore, nanoparticles used in cosmetics pose a threat to the environment. These little particles wash off, potentially harming the aquatic ecosystem. Hence, European Union Regulation 1223/2009 specifically addresses the potential risks associated with nanotechnology in cosmetic products. In an specific section this regulation gives a clear definition of what nanomaterials are and sets out the rules for notifying authorities before a product hits the market. It also outlines the safety assessment, authorization, and labeling requirements for nanomaterials meant for use in cosmetics. To make sure everything is safe, the Scientific Committee for Consumer Safety (SCCS) steps in to provide advice to the European Commission when there is not enough data about a specific nanomaterial.

In the event of a medical emergency linked to nanocosmetics, understanding their composition becomes mandatory. Manufacturers must inform the European Commission via the Cosmetic Product Notification Portal before selling a new cosmetic product. Article 16 requires manufacturers to issue a special notification six months before selling, unless a nanomaterial is already approved and listed. The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) reviews proposed nanomaterials, offering feedback, though lacking the authority to approve products. Despite this, companies can still sell products without awaiting SCCS’s response, as the focus remains on regulation rather than approval. Consumers can consult the European Commission’s list for safety details, properties, and functions of nanomaterials in cosmetics. Additionally, companies must label anything falling into the “nano” category accordingly.

In a nanoshell:

The beauty industry embraces nanotechnology for its capacity to convey distinctive properties, providing numerous advantages to cosmetics. Nanocosmetics stand out for their enhanced performance, extended durability, and improved aesthetics compared to conventional counterparts. As a result, nowadays nano-infused products are prevalent across various cosmetic categories, including skincare, makeup, hair care, sunscreen, nail care, and fragrances.

Nanocosmetics have many benefits, but companies and users need to watch out for any harmful effects on the skin and/or the environment. Therefore, a continuous commitment to research and testing for each application, along with strict compliance with existing regulations is essential to ensure the optimal integration of nanotechnology in our daily lives providing the best possible experience for consumers.


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