Nano Cosmetics

Reporter: Helen Wellings

We've heard alot about potentially unsafe ingredients in sunscreens. Now for the first time, new revelations about makeup. We know how effective it is at hiding wrinkles, camouflaging spots, making women, and increasingly men, look younger. But how safe are cream foundations, mineral powders, and concealers? For the first time, tests have been conducted in Australia on leading makeup products to find out whether they contain certain controversial ingredients, called nanoparticles, and the possible dangers.

"We could be sacrificing safety for beauty and millions of Australian women could unknowingly be putting nano particles on their face every day" says Georgie Miller. Associate Professor Tom Faunce, Assoc. Professor, College of Law and Medicine, Australian National University says "There is enough information now to show that nano particles can damage cells, can possibly cause cancer depending on the nature of the particle."

The beauty industry's finding new ways of developing products that make our skin look smoother, healthier, younger than ever ... and can penetrate deeper into the cells. But what we don't know and can't see might hurt us. "If you take aluminium and grind it down to nano size, you put it in foundation and concealers, suddenly you find it diffuses light and can help camouflage wrinkles… Our concern is that these very tiny scales, these particles pose serious new health risks" says Georgia.

Increasingly, new formulations are being made from nano-size particles tiny, microscopic forms, a hundred times smaller than a red blood cell. They're from common cosmetic chemicals like aluminium, zinc, titanium and silicone oxide and in alot of sunscreens. Foundations using nanos reflect light and improve pigment colour, mineral powders smooth and illuminate, concealers hide a thousand flaws.

"If you can actually develop creams or lotions or powders that don't look as though they are powders because they are made from particles that are so small no-one else knows they're on you face, then obviously this is an advantage from the point of view of the manufacturer" says Tom Faunce.

The fear is that certain nanoparticle forms could also be toxic. "The early signs are that these ingredients could increase the risk of skin cancer, could even potentially lead to birth defects. Production of free radicles increases and this can damage DNA and even kill cells" says Geogia.

Environmental scientist, Georgia Miller, of Friends of the Earth. They asked the Australian Key Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis at Sydney University to conduct tests on leading brands of foundations, mineral foundations and concealers, cheap to expensive to find out which products contained nanoparticles and what size they were. "These 8 contain nanoparticles less than 100 nanometers in size. These 2 products contain particles 100 nanometers and bigger. "If you've got a nano particle in the higher size range, so 100 nanometres or more, then it's less likely to get into the body" says Tom Faunce.

Georgia Miller says the biggest concerns could be inhaling nanoparticles in mineral powders, but more so those products that have penetration enhancers. "7 of the products contain ingredients that are known to act as skin penetration enhancers so they promote the uptake of chemicals in the skin" says Georgia. "In laboratories they damage the cells and so it's been a major concern of regulators… are they going to damage human tissue?" asks Tom.

Associate Professor Tom Faunce, of the Australian National University's College of Law and Medicine, says - we need more research on possible damage to our cells. "One of the arguments is that well not too much because the outer surface of our skin is dead so not many of these particles will get down into the bloodstream. Unfortunately with cosmetics the manufacturers often include penetrating agents which are designed to take the particles right down into the deepest layers of the skin and into the bloodstream" adds Tom.

Accord, the Association representing the cosmetics industry, says nano technology and nanomaterials are not widely used in cosmetics sold in Australia. It says the Therapeutic Goods Administration which regulates ingredients in sunscreens, has concluded that nanoparticles pose no safety risks and stay on the surface of the skin.

"The European Union just this year has passed new laws that will make nano used in sunscreen and cosmetics go through new safety testing and also face mandatory labelling. That's what we are calling for here" says Georgia. New laws overseas on nanoparticles have prompted our cosmetics regulator, the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme to propose similar testing here. But labelling's also critical - only one of these products, Christian Dior, listed nanoparticles on the label. "Manufacturers have got it all wrong if they think that by keeping the word nano off the packet they are going to reassure people. Consumers are much more clued up these days" adds Tom.


Scientific testing commissioned by Friends of the Earth Australia and carried out by the Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility has found:

• Concealers, foundations and mineral foundations sold by 8 leading brands

contained particles measuring less than 100nm in size (Clinique, Clarins, L'Oréal, Revlon, The Body Shop, Max Factor, Lancôme Paris and By Terry)

• A further 2 products contained particles that measured 100nm (Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior).

• 7 of the cosmetics tested contained ingredients known to act as 'penetration enhancers', making it more likely that nanoparticles will be taken up into the skin

• The 3 cosmetics that did not contain penetration enhancers were mineral foundations, which pose greater inhalation risks due to their powdered form.

• Only one of the brands surveyed (Christian Dior) indicated the use of nanoingredients on the product label. Failing to label nano-ingredients denies consumers the capacity to make an informed choice.