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Nano in cosmetics and personal care

There are a number of nano-enhanced products available in the UK ranging from sunscreens and anti-ageing products to razors and curling tongs, (though at the moment we can't give a comprehensive listing.)

Here are some of the main areas and what they claim to do:

Sunscreens

It's long been known that titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) block the harmful effects of ultraviolet light - the stronger the sunblock the whiter the lotion, with total sunblocks becoming a thick white paste.

But when you break down these substances to nano-sized particles, they become transparent. So you get the beneficial effect without the 'face pack' look.

So when you see a high-factor sunscreen in a moisturiser or sun cream which is clear, not white, you know that it is nano.

This use of nano-sized TiO2 and ZnO2 in sunscreens and moisturisers is one of the largest uses of nano in the cosmetics and personal care markets.

Killing bacteria

Silver nanoparticles and so-called colloidal silver, which contains silver nanoparticles, are used in many personal care products, because they are very effective at killing bacteria.

They are mainly used to ensure cleanliness in equipment, such as make-up instruments, hair brushes, curling tongs, foils for electric razors, foot massagers, tooth brushes, bottle brushes, rubber gloves, hair dryers, hearing aids, facial ionic steamers, and even bidets, though most of these are more likely to be available in Asia.

Outside the UK also, nano silver is used in soaps, toothpastes, wet wipes, deodorants, lip products, as well as face and body foams.

Smooth moves

Nano is used in curling tongs for example, as it is purported to smooth the hair and reduce static through a nano ceramic and silver coating.

Moisturisers and anti-ageing creams

Forty years ago cosmetic companies started using nano-sized parcels of ingredients (also called liposomes or now nanosomes) to improve the solubility of ingredients and add shimmer.

Essentially, liposomes are made out of the same material as a cell membrane and act as small capsules or bubbles able to hold and deliver active ingredients and cosmetic materials such as Vitamin E. In the healthcare sector, they are used to deliver therapeutic drugs or vitamins.

Nano emulsions are another process in skin creams. Emulsion just means mixing two unblendable liquids (like oil and vinegar in a salad dressing) where one of the liquids is suspended in the other. With nano emulsion, as opposed just plain emulsion, one liquid disperses in nano-scale droplets throughout the other.

Nano emulsions, unlike normal emulsions are so fine that they can be sprayed on. Companies that sell them claim that nano emulsions can transport beneficial compounds deep into the skin and in high concentrations.

Nano gold is also being used in one moisturiser available in the UK, allegedly bringing healing and anti-oxident properties.

Fullerenes, or bucky balls as they are also known, are carbon molecules that are only about one nanometre in diameter and resemble the structure of some footballs. They are allegedly used for anti-oxidant and smoothing properties in moisturisers.

One product using fullerenes was withdrawn from the UK market because of concerns about its safety as a cosmetic ingredient, though they are thought to be used in some moisturisers and anti-ageing formulas in other parts of the world.

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