Nanoparticles used in some sun tan lotions have been found to affect mice brains by upsetting the chemical balance and possibly causing brain damage, says new US research.
The US Environmental Protection Agency study, published on the website Nature.com, looked at the affects of nano-sized Titania, now commonly used in sun cream formulations and often labelled titantium oxide, on cultures of microglia mice cells.
Researcher Bellina Veronesi says the findings do not mean that the Titania grains are harmful to the human body, it does add to a growing body of research that suggests potential risks might exists when certain compounds are reduced to nano size.
Only last month eight lobby groups combined to petition the FDA in a campaign that questions the development of nano particles in cosmetic personal care products in the US.
Groups that included Friends of the Earth and The International Center for Technology Assessment highlighted a lack of safety and assessment work behind the launches of some 116 personal care products that are currently on the US market.
Veronesi’s study showed that the nano-sized Titania provoke the mice brain cells to manufacture chemicals that are protective in the short term, but can cause longer-term damage.
Günter Oberdörster, a specialist in nanoparticle toxicity at the University of Rochester in New York, told Nature.com. “These are valuable results, but you have to be very careful about extrapolating them to live organisms.” The experiment was carried out on cultured mice brain cells, stressing the fact that it is difficult to conclude that human brain cells will behave in the same way.
Although nano technology has been heralded as a major boon for a variety of industries – having applications as widespread as paint, chemicals, clothing and food – the technology is still in its infancy and many experts believe that it will still take years of research to fully establish its safety in various applications.
Many scientists have pointed to the fact that nano particles might well have different chemical compositions to their larger-sized derivatives. For personal care products nano formulations have specific implications because topical applications are more easily absorbed by skin cells. posing a host of as yet unknown risks.
Titania has been used in a variety of applications, from white pigments in paints to coatings for the protection of fabrics. In personal care products it has most commonly been used in sun screens, but has also appeared in toothpaste as well as make-up products.
In sunscreen formulations it is said to enhance the balance of both UVA and UVB protection. It is also said to specifically improve UVA protection because it forms a physical barrier for the skin.
Industry has countered claims that nanoparticles in cosmetic products are not safe by stating that their larger-sized derivatives are safe and by also saying that nanoparticles have always occured in formulations, naturally.
However, with a growing body of scientific evidence questioning these theories, it seems that more testing will have to be carried out if personal companies are going to prove that nano-based formulations are categorically saf