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Nanoparticles: Assessing Your Health Risk and Why You Should Care

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Before I took on my current role as the CEO of natural skincare company Marie Veronique Organics, I, like many of you, had not spent a single moment thinking about nanoparticles. As I've learned more, I have become increasingly alarmed at the number of studies raising concerns about the health risks that have been associated with nanoparticles.

You may assume, as I did, that the FDA is actively regulating substances such as nanoparticles. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I have had the privilege of meeting several top scientists who have helped me to understand that one of the greatest issues with consumer products today is that they are often made without regard for the precautionary principle, allowing manufacturers to use ingredients that are not proven harmful rather than only allowing the use of ingredients that have been proven safe.

To make matters worse, many consumers are not aware that nanoparticles exist in many of their everyday products. My goal is to help ensure a spotlight is placed on nanoparticles so that you understand what they are and where they are. This will allow you to assess your health risk, shift your buying habits, and send a message to manufacturers that until they are proven safe, we would rather not expose ourselves or our families to nanoparticles.

What is a nanoparticle?

It is generally agreed that a particle having one or more dimensions of 100nm (nanometers) or less, should be considered a nanoparticle. This definition is founded on the fact that particles at this size or less begin to differentiate themselves from larger or bulk particles of the same material. Particles on the nanoscale have different physical properties and effects than their bulk material counterparts. As such, they are not, from a physics and chemistry standpoint, the same substance.

Why should you care about nanoparticles?

We know that nanoparticles can have very different properties and effects compared to the same materials at larger sizes. This, in and of itself, may not be cause for concern. However, we should be concerned about what we don't know, including:

  • how nanoparticles behave, and
  • if the human defense mechanisms can respond adequately to nanoparticles which have characteristics never encountered before.

What we don't know, makes it difficult to be able to determine the scope of potential health risks associated with nanoparticles. These risks can be multiplied by such factors as numerous sources of exposure (food, personal care products, clothing etc), at-risk populations (baby care products), environmental contamination (human drinking supplies), and food chain contamination.

The good news is that an increasing number of researchers are taking a serious look at nanotechnology, nanoparticles and associated health risks. As the nanotechnology and nanoparticle industry grows, researchers will undoubtedly be able to paint a clearer picture.

In the meantime, there is research available that is worth taking a look at. Most recently researchers have discovered that nano-particle sized zinc oxide, commonly found in cosmetics and sunscreens, may cause cancer by entering human cells and damaging DNA. While this is a preliminary study that will require further in-depth research, it begins to shed light on the potential dangers at hand. Other studies have shown similar patterns of cell damage, including links to brain and nerve damage.

Any way you slice the nanoparticle debate, it is increasingly clear that we simply don't know enough to not follow the precautionary principle. And, the more we learn about nanoparticles the more concerned we should be about the growing body of evidence showing a direct link to serious health risks. I have a feeling what we do know is just the tip of the iceberg.

To learn more about the safety ratings of your favorite personal care products, including nanoparticle considerations, visit http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

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