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Size matters when it comes to nano in cosmetics, says consumer group

By Katie Bird , 13-Nov-2008
Last updated on 14-Nov-2008 at 15:48 GMT2008-11-14T15:48:13Z

The FDA must recognise that the size of a particle may affect its behavior and call for compulsory safety testing and labelling of nanoparticles in cosmetics, according to a US consumer group.

The Consumers Union recently wrote to the FDA asking that they require a full safety assessment on the use of nanoparticles in cosmetics, sunscreens and sunblocks, before a product is allowed to market.

In addition, the group has called for the labelling of nanoparticles in products so that consumers can make an informed choice.

Consumers misinformed on use of nano

The letter was in response to a series of investigations by the Consumers Union that highlighted both widespread use of nanoparticles, and widespread misinformation regarding their use.

Back in July 2007 the consumer group tested 8 mineral-based sunscreens and found all 8 contained nanoparticles of zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide although only one disclosed this fact on the label.

This prompted the group to test a further five products that the companies’ representatives said did not contain nanoparticles. Four out of the five products contained nanoparticles.

According to Michael Hansen, chief scientist at the Consumers Union and author of the letter, these investigations show that use of nanoparticles is widespread and that consumers are not being informed of their presence.

Size matters

At present the FDA does not recognise that the size of a material affects its behavior, Hansen told CosmeticsDesign.com.

This means that manufacturers can include nano-scale particles of materials that have already been approved on the macro-scale, he explained.

As titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, two of the most common sunscreen ingredients are approved for use in the macro scale, there is nothing to stop manufacturers including them in products in the nano-scale.

The Consumers Union are calling for both increased testing and clearer labelling and although Hansen expects progress to be slow, he does believe changes will be made.

“Ultimately the FDA will have to recognise that size matters and start regulating and labelling to this end,” he said.

Hansen also noted that the European Union has called on manufacturers to provide specific data regarding the nanoparticles in products and said it would be hard for the US to remain part of the global cosmetics community if it didn’t act.

He likened the issue to that of GM foods where the European and US regulatory landscapes differ quite significantly.

“I think this is one issue where there will be movement, although of course we must wait to see who will be brought in as the new head of the administration,” he said, noting that action on the safety side of things would be more likely than on labelling.

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