Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Nanocosmetics: a bright future, or clouded with doubt?

As I mentioned in my recent news post, nanocosmetics are potentially the rising star of the beauty industry this decade. Micro-particles are being used in just about everything from nail polishes to sunscreens to anti-ageing products, as these tiny molecular compounds are able to penetrate skin more deeply and produce better results. Great strides have been made in this field, so we can arguably expect to see in the near future more and more cosmetics that are both
beautifying and medically enhancing. Similarly exciting advancements are found at fashion merchandising colleges as well. It's therefore unsurprising that several big brands such as The Body Shop, as well as smaller brands such as Fiabila, are cashing in on the upward trend, with patents in this field having increased by 103% in the past seven years. But despite all of these globally known brands taking it so seriously, could it be nothing more than a flash in the pan?

This is certainly a possibility - and here's why. It's often been found in tests in the past that anti-ageing creams are not as effective as they are made out to be, doing little more for your skin than your average high street sunscreen. This is because if they were genuinely effective, they would have to be sold as medication - maybe even behind the counter of a pharmacy rather than off the shelf in a supermarket or branch of Boots. Can you really see your favourite foundation going that way? And if it did, would you still buy it, or would it be too much trouble?

Some fear that the use of this technology is racing ahead of the research done and potential repercussions. The words 'cancer' and 'genetic disorders' have been floated more than once in relation to nanocosmetics, and German citizens have even been warned by the country's Federal Environment Agency against using products containing nanoparticles, given that the impact of these nanoparticles upon the environment is not fully known. Another problem is that products containing nanoparticles are not always labelled as such - and if there's one thing that consumers like, it's transparency. Which? magazine, in 2008, demanded that such products be independently tested for safety - and it is a little worrying that of the 67 companies that Which? surveyed on this subject, only 17 firms responded - and that of these 17, only 8 were willing to provide information about how they use nanotechnology.

But all information needs to be regarded with an analytical and impartial eye: much of the criticism levelled at the use of nanotechnology in cosmetics comes from three years ago or more, and as with any technology, three years is a long time. We may as well count in dog rather than human years. And with the release of a new book this year on nanocosmetics and nanomedicines, we may get even closer in 2011 and beyond to discovering the truth of the matter.

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