Nanotechnology and cosmetics

UK Consumer Organization Which? Releases New Report

Who needs an emerging technologies blog when you have The Daily Mail?  For those of you that missed it, Wednesday’s on-line issue of the British tabloid newspaper highlighted

“The beauty creams with nanoparticles that could poison your body”

I’m so glad someone’s tracking this issue, while us folks over on the other side of the pond are dealing with the considerably less-interesting issues surrounding the incoming Obama administration.  The only trouble is, the Mail didn’t quite get it right.  In fact on a scale of 1 – 10, I’m not even sure they even make it to first base…

The article is based on a new report from the UK-based consumer organization Which? The report “Small Wonder? Nanotechnology and Cosmetics” [PDF, 3.9 MB] takes a clear-eyed view of nanotechnology-based cosmetics on the market, and asks what information is available about them, and whether or not users can be sure they are safe.

Unlike The Daily Mail story, this is an exceedingly good report.  If you are at all interested in nanotechnology and cosmetics, read it—it’s only a few pages long, but conveys the issues with clarity and style.  And by building on perspectives from industry, researchers and consumers, it presents a well-balanced overview.

The report is so accessible that it’s hardly worth summarizing it.  But here anyway are the take-home messages—Which?’s 10 point action plan:

  • CO-ORDINATION:  The Government should establish a strategic stakeholder group to ensure there is effective input from all sectors of society and that the necessary measures are implemented and progress monitored.
  • DEFINITIONS:  International agreement is needed on definitions for nanotechnologies.
  • PRODUCTS:  The Government and EU need to understand what products are already on the market, in the pipeline or at the research stage and identifying those likely to raise most concerns based on current understanding.
  • RESEARCH:  The Government and EU need to ensure that uncertainties around the environmental and health risks presented by some manufactured nano materials are urgently addressed – and ensure that research to enable this is funded.
  • ASSESSMENT:  The Government and EU must provide clarity over how the safety of nano materials should be assessed given the current knowledge gaps.
  • PRECAUTION:  The precautionary principle should be applied to products where there are potential risks, but where it is not currently possible to assess their safety, so that consumers are not put at risk.
  • TRANSPARENCY:  Government and industry should be open about the uncertainties that some nano materials may raise, the research underpinning safety assessments as well as claims about potential benefits.
  • REGULATION:  The EU needs to address the loopholes in regulations so that nano materials are included and there is clear guidance on how the regulations apply.
  • INFORMATION:  The Government must ensure consumers, industry and regulators have clear information about where nano materials are being used and that any claims they make are true.
  • ENGAGEMENT:  The public should be involved in meaningful discussions, at all levels, about the development of the technology, priority applications and any no-go areas.

This is a reasonable action plan, and a far cry from the scare-mongering pervading The Daily Mail story.

And unlike many of the reports that appeared in the popular press, Which? do an admirable job of fitting the story to the facts—rather than the other way around!

*At the time of posting, the report “Small Wonder? Nanotechnology and Cosmetics” wasn’t available on the Which? website.  As soon as it is up, the links in this posting will be updated.  In the meantime, the press release associated with the report can be accessed here.

Update, 11/7/08 – the report “Small Wonder? Nanotechnology and Cosmetics” can be accessed here [PDF, 3.9 MB]

[Minor edits made to the blog, 11/7/08]

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3 Responses to Nanotechnology and cosmetics

  1. […] Andrew Maynard (Chief Science Adviser to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies) has written up his impressions (on the 2020 Science blog) of the report that Which? has published on nanotechnology in cosmetics. The report is called, Small Wonder? Nanotechnology and Cosmetics. (It’s not been posted on Which?’s website yet.) You can read Maynard’s comments here. […]

  2. nanotürkiye says:

    In the DailyMail site there is a wrong sentence:
    “Nanoparticles, which are 80 times thinner than a human hair, are used by firms including Boots, The Body Shop, Avon, Nivea and Unilever.”

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