The Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) studied the use of nanotechnology in cosmetics after the UK's Royal Society & Royal Academy of Engineering concluded that nanomaterials should be treated as new chemicals from a risk assessment point of view.
Concern over insoluble nanoparticles
In its report the SCCP distinguished between soluble and insoluble nanomaterials identifying the latter as of most concern.
The committee said repeated application of cosmetics containing insoluble nanomaterials could lead to the accumulation of the particles in the body.
Consequently, it recommended the "urgent development of new methodologies to assess the skin penetration" of this type of nanomaterial.
The SCCP also said nanoparticles should not just be distinguished according to their solubility but should be evaluated on a case by case basis taking into account their specific properties such as size, number and surface characteristics.
Impaired skin and sunscreen
Scientists are concerned that insufficient information is available in a number of areas related to nanotechnology and the SCCP drew attention to the impact of nanomaterials on impaired skin.
The committee said the Margin of Safety (MOS) which is normally used to assess the risks of substances on abnormal skin may be inadequate in the case of nanomaterials because evidence suggests that they are more likely to be systematically absorbed by such skin.
Because sunscreens are often used on skin that is sunburned and therefore considered abnormal the SCCP said it was necessary to review the safety of nanosized titanium dioxide, which is becoming popular in sunscreens.
Speaking generally about safety assessment of nanomaterials the SCCP said the looming ban on animal testing presents challenges because research is not sufficiently developed for in vitro testing to be relied upon.
The EC is currently completing a review of existing EU regulations to determine whether specific legislation is required for nanotechnology and is expected to deliver its verdict in the coming year.
Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating the properties of tiny particles, measuring one billionth of a metre and has a broad range of applications from computer chips to food and personal care.
A human hair is 80,000 nanometres (nm) wide, a red blood cell 7,000 nm wide, and a water molecule 0.3 nm wide.