Think about your daily beauty routine. Does it involve facial powders, eye shadow, and blush? If so, you could be unknowingly creating Dust Bowl conditions in your bathroom, sending questionable, invisible particles airborne, where they'll likely wind up inside your body.
While dozens of harmful ingredients are tarnishing the cosmetics industry's image, nanoparticles in makeup are a particularly hot topic lately, as more studies show the tiny particles can damage cells and organs by crossing the blood-brain barrier. To put the teensy nanoparticles into perspective, try to wrap your head around this: The diameter of a nanoparticle is between the size of an atom and a molecule, about 1/5,000th the thickness of a sheet of a paper.
Although the technology's been used to create tiny versions of ingredients that are used in everything from cellphones and microchips to odor-fighting socks and underwear for about a decade now, scientists and doctors still haven't figured out if it's even safe.
The nanoparticle-size ingredients are a darling of the cosmetics industry, too, mainly because they help products stick to your face longer or provide an appealing shimmer, depending on which ingredients are blasted down in size.
Just this week, researchers from New Jersey universities learned more about how nanoparticles in cosmetics behave once we apply them to our skin. They found that a surprising percentage of the nanoparticles actually clumped together to form larger particles. Instead of penetrating deep into the lungs, the clumped-up particles tended to stick around in the nose and upper airways. What this means for our health? "We don't know at this point. This is the first step in answering that question," says study author Gediminas Mainelis, PhD, associate professor in the department of environmental sciences at Rutgers University. "Some caution might be in order, but I don't want to sound alarmist. We need to get more data."
Mainelis and colleagues are part of a much larger project that will focus more on silver and zinc nanoparticles, how they behave once dispersed, and the possible effects they have on cell toxicity. "This is an under-investigated area, but finally we're seeing some progress," he said.
While the Food and Drug Administration is taking a stand when it comes to nanoparticles used in food packaging (they're used to reduce spoilage), there's no regulation in sight for their presence in cosmetics.
To reduce your exposure to nanoparticles, try these tactics:
Opt for less-toxic cosmetics. To lighten the toxic load of your personal care products, visit Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database to rate your makeup and find safer versions. The Project on Emerging Nanotechnolgies offers a list of nano-based products, although the list is not all-inclusive.
Use brushes less. Makeup brushes send a lot of material airborne. To reduce the chance they'll fly into your nose and mouth, try applying your makeup with cosmetic wedges and pads, instead.
Look at labels. Some makeup manufacturers boast about nanoparticle content, while others keep it on the downlow. Avoid products listing "micronized," "fullerenes," "nano-," or "microscale" ingredients. Since companies don't have to disclose nanoparticle ingredients, you may want to call the manufacturer to find out more about your favorite products.
Published on: June 27, 2012
Updated on: June 28, 2012