German institute warns against use of nano-silver in cosmetics

By Katie Nichol

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Ultraviolet Titanium dioxide Bfr

Nano-silver has ‘no place’ in cosmetics, according to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).

The use of silver ions is widespread in consumer products such as cosmetics, food and textiles due to their antimicrobial properties, according to BfR, and silver particles in the nanorange are increasingly being adopted for use by manufacturers.

However, the Institute claims that there is insufficient evidence upon which to make an informed judgment about the potential health risks of these materials.

“Until we are in a position to reliably rule out potential health risks, we recommend that manufacturers refrain from using nano-silver in consumer products,” ​said BfR President, Professor Andreas Hensel.

Evaluating potential health risks

BfR claims that it is a known fact that the silver ions released form certain silver compounds can damage cells in different ways, and that ‘the nanoformulation of silver may cross biological barriers into the cell’.

As a result, further research is needed in order to clarify questions surrounding this issue, including the extent to which consumers are exposed to nanoscale silver particles and the effects of nano-silver in humans, the Institute said.

“Because nanomaterials are so different from ‘normal’ particles, you have to look at them individually. Every substance needs to be checked individually, and we need to do more research in order to make an informed opinion,” ​a BfR spokesperson told

Use of nanomaterials in cosmetics

Despite the benefits of nanomaterials (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are used as UV filters in sunscreen, for example, and are said to have a high level of efficacy) there is continuing debate over whether they could pose health risks to consumers.

The EU requires that from 2013, the use of nanomaterials in cosmetic products must be declared.

BfR has published an Opinion on this subject which can be found (in German only) here.

Related topics Formulation & Science

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