Summertime safety: The risk of nanoparticles

Summertime safety: The risk of nanoparticles

Do you really know what you’re putting on your skin?

It’s finally summer and that means camping, backyard barbecues, pool parties—and layers of sunscreen, bug spray, moisturizers, and other skin care products. Protecting and nurturing your skin is not something to take lightly, but have you considered the risks posed by the potentially harmful ingredients in many personal care products on the market today?

Chemical-laden cosmetics and skin care products are usually the first to cause concern, but even some naturally derived options are questionable. In particular, you want to look out for ingredients that contain nanoparticles.

What are nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles are defined as microscopic particles with sizes ranging from 1 to 100 nanometers. They are so tiny, in fact, that about 100,000 nanoparticles would fit in the width of a human hair! Because of the extremely small size of these particles, their properties can be very different from the properties of larger particles of the same material. For example, nanoparticles are generally more reactive than standard-sized particles.

Why does this matter to you?

This high level of reactivity—although with huge potential for science and engineering applications—may make nanoparticles unpredictable in living things. They are not only very reactive, but they are also so small that they can actually pass through cell membranes and even enter the bloodstream. So far, few studies have been done on nanoparticle interactions within cells, but the fact that particles can enter the bloodstream and reach the interior of cells can be concerning.

As nanoparticle-based formulations continue to enter into consumer health and beauty categories, it’s important to exercise caution until further studies are undertaken to prove the safety of these very unique materials. Even if a product contains a natural material such as zinc oxide, it is worth checking to see if that material is a nanomaterial. If it is, you may not want to use it. In this case, you’re better safe than sorry.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of mineral-based products that don’t include nanoparticles, so it’s easy to take care of yourself and your loved ones and to keep enjoying the great outdoors!

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