The project, which is being carried out by the UFZ Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, should prove particularly pertinent to small- and medium-sized cosmetics and personal care sector.
Nano particles, which are less than 100 nanometre in size, could prove to have an entirely different chemical balance when used as part of personal care formulations, which means that extensive research work still has to be carried out to determine safety.
The INOS research project (Identification and Assessment of the Effects of Engineered Nanoparticles on Human and Environmental Health) is scheduled to last three years and has received financial support of over €1 million from the German government.
Germany is rapidly evolving as a European leader in the field of nanotechnology, a fact that was recently underlined by the opening of the CAN nanotechnology research and development centre in Hamburg, which is being partly funded by German personal care giant Beiersdorf.
For the industry, Nanotechnology has proved an effective tool for both sunscreen and anti-ageing products. This is because active ingredients can be developed on a nano level, increasing their ability to be absorbed by the dermal layers of the skin, and thus upping efficacy.
The aim of the INOS project is to create a scientific data base where anyone can find information about the potential risks of nanoparticles. According to the project organisers, experience with other emerging technologies has shown that they are only accepted by society if possible health effects are analysed and published early on, which is why this open approach is being taken.
Nanotechnologies are considered the growth market of the future, which is why so much money is currently being poured into their development, but some scientists have raised questions over the technology's potential volatility, a key reason for the establishment of the project.
According to the German Federal Ministry of Research, the world market for products influenced by nanotechnologies to increase ten-fold in the next few years, to a total of €1 trillion, creating huge potential for a number of industries, including the personal care sector.
However, small and mid-sized companies in particular are often not capable of testing the risks surrounding nanoparticles to any great extent or over a long time because of a lack of research and development resources.
The INOS project aims to provide support for these types of players, conducting research work that can be applied to a range of industries to determine any possible risks involved with the technology.
The project entails a number of research institutes and companies from both Dresden and Leipzig, including the Max Bergmann Centre for Biomaterials, Namos, as well as Leipzig-Halle Centre for Environmental Research.
One of the biggest questions on consumers' lips is determining whether or not nanoparticles will have any adverse reaction when they come into contact with human cells.
The project scientists will be working hard to answer this question by carrying out tests on both human and fish cells. And it is this work could well help to determine how the technology is applied in future cosmetic and personal care formulations.