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Infinitely Big Expectations from Infinitely Small Particles
Posted: May 20, 2008
“It’s green and it flies. What is it?” is a typical question one may get from a four-year old child, and the answer is something like a flying cucumber, a jet-engine-fueled frog or Batman in a disco-outfit, although the latter is a little bit outdated for this age group. If this sounds like a silly opening for a column, try to answer this question, “It is infinitely small and has infinite opportunities. What is it?"
Without question, most people in the personal care industry will know the answer to be nanotechnology; however, few actually know anything about it. What the industry does know is that nanotechnology has infinite possibilities, along with infinite safety issues associated with it. The industry is beginning to start working on this technology so that the opportunity is not missed; therefore, nanotech ingredients are being renamed as something mega-small: mega XXL is out; nano XXXXS is in.
What actually is nanotechnology? According to Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson Center, “Nanotechnology is a catch-all term for techniques, materials and devices that operate at the nanometer scale. Being defined as the design, characterization, production and application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape and size at the nano-scale, it represents one of the most promising technologies of the 21st century and has been considered to be a new industrial revolution.”
Nanotechnology is important, but is it being used in cosmetics? Gerhard J. Nohynek, director, L'Oréal R & D, Worldwide Safety Evaluation, et al., writes: “Today, nanomaterials are increasingly used in sporting goods, tires, catalysts, electronic components, window sprays, paints, varnishes, coatings, foods, sunscreens, cosmetics and antimicrobial and antifungal preparations and are expected to be increasingly applied to the medical field in diagnosis, imaging and drug delivery.”
In cosmetics, nanoparticles are probably most well-known in sunscreens. “Nanoparticles are a subset of nano-materials and were defined as single particles with a diameter below 100 nm, although their agglomerates may be larger,” says Maynard. One of the largest applications of nanoparticles in sunscreens is where the nanoparticle diameter is normally more than 10 nm. Until now, most would have called them ultrafine inorganic sunfilters but that term does not include the gigantic opportunity of nanoparticles. And that opportunity is indeed gigantic, as the global production of nanoparticles for sunscreen products was estimated to be approximately 1,000 tons during 2003–2004 and principally consists of titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) particles.