Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nano Beauty

NanoTechnology is the study of very small things, dealing with materials 100 nano-meters or smaller in at least one dimension. One nano-meter (nm) is one billionth of a meter. By comparison, a human hair is approximately 80,000 nm wide, far beyond the nano range. However, if nano-materials were just small versions of big things, they wouldn’t be particularly interesting. The exciting applications come because materials sometimes act in a fundamentally different way when their size shrinks to a minimum.

The scientific concept of nano-technology was born in 1959 in a famous presentation by Richard Feynman, were he described putting the Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin, or making computers the size of a building fit in your pocket. By engineering at the atomic level, we will discover new ways to improve our lives in ways never dreamed possible.” He could not have been more prescient.

The term “nano-technology” was first used by K. Eric Drexler in his seminal 1986 book Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of NanoTechnology. Since its publication, there has been unceasing development of medical and cosmetic applications, and wide-ranging academic research. Cosmetic applications have concentrated on sunscreens, hair treatment and anti-aging products.

Nano-sized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for sunscreens (think of a life guard with a white nose) were the first, and still most important, applications of nano-technology in personal care. By reducing the “particle size” below one fourth the wavelength of light, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide become invisible while completely maintaining their sun protective properties. If anything, the smaller particle size enhances protection by fitting into small irregularities in the skin.

NanoEmulsions are used to enhance the delivery of actives ingredients and have even been claimed to have anti-microbial properties. In the beauty industry, P&G, L’Oreal and Henkle lead the pack in nano-related patents. Products are on the market from every major brand, most often to aid in the delivery of active ingredients, but while the many majors seem relatively subdued in publicizing the nano aspects of their products, NanoWorks by Pureology, a leading US salon hair care line puts the technology front and center.

It is well-known that surface chemistry of materials such as these can affect toxicity. Fortunately, the surface chemistry can be engineered to enhance safety. So far, the FDA has found no evidence of NanoParticles in beauty products being a health problem, but on the flip side, there is little conclusive proof that they are safe. Of course, brand owners are still responsible for marketing safe products, regardless of specific regulations. Nanotechnology is a broad field with many potential applications in beauty. With so much emphasis on skin and hair products and a general public attracted to new “technology” there is no doubt in coming years many will be attracted by “Nano” on the label.

What protein technology was to the 20th century... nano tecnology is to the 21st century !


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