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Nanoparticles In Mineral Make-Up?

Concerned individuals are starting to raise an important question: Do cosmetics, including mineral make-up, contain dangerous nanoparticles?

Micronized minerals like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are used extensively in cosmetics. The use of micronized minerals in make-up produces a lustrous, smooth and glow-like finish to the skin and enhances the feel and appearance of the product itself. Large cosmetic manufacturers depend on micronized and sometimes, nanoparticle form ingredients to achieve the finest product quality and applied finishes.

Micronized ingredients are not necessarily nanoparticles. It is important to understand the difference and find out if the brand of make-up that you wish to use contains nanoparticles.

What is the difference between nanoparticles and micronized particles?

Nanoparticles are particles that are so small, they are measured in billionths of a meter (nanometers). A nanoparticle is defined as anything between 1-100 nanometers in diameter. These ultra fine particles are a boon to the cosmetic industry because they "fill" the microscopic crevices in the skin and glide over the skin smoothly. They, however, also pose a serious health risk when inhaled or absorbed into the body.

When inhaled, nanoparticles can become imbedded into the walls of the lungs, making it impossible for the body to remove these foreign particles. Loose mineral make-up that includes nanoparticle form ingredients, therefore, can be a health risk, especially to those who suffer from bronchial conditions.

Studies have shown that Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) in nanoparticle form can cause lung cancer and have the same effect as asbestos when it comes in contact with living tissue. Some say that as long as nanoparticle form TiO2 is used in non-airborne, cream type formulations, it is generally recognized as safe. However, studies suggest that nanoparticles may be able to pass directly through the skin, especially when the skin is flexed during movement, and through hair follicles and wounds. More studies will need to be conducted in order to confirm the rate of absorption of nanoparticles through the skin.

Not all micronized ingredients however, are nanoparticles. Micronized ingredients are measured in millionths of a meter (microns or micrometers) making a micron 1000 times larger than a nanometer. Most mineral make-up companies, conscious of the dangers of nanoparticles, claim to use a median particle size of 12-15 microns or higher (12,000-15,000 nanometers and up).

According to ETC Group, particles are classified according to the following criteria:

Coarse:Particles with average diameter < 10 m
Fine:Particles with average diameter < 2.5 m
Ultrafine (Nanoparticles):Particles with average diameter < 0.1 m (<100 nm)

The ETC Group suggests that ultrafine particles (UFP) measuring 70 nm (0.07 m) may enter the alveolar surfaces of the lungs, 50 nm (0.05 m) may enter cell walls, and 30 nm (0.03 m) may enter the central nervous system. There is no comprehensive scientific data regarding UFP measuring less than 20 nm (<0.02 m) at this time.

What are my options?

Based on this information, it would seem that mineral make-up made without nanoparticles should not pose a health risk when used properly. There are a large number of mineral make-up manufacturers who do not use nanoparticles in their products. The Mineral Powder Foundation Ingredients List ( can help you identify such companies.

To reduce the potential of inhaling airborne particles, you may wish to select products that are in cream or pressed form. To reduce the risk of inhaling fine powders, even when using nanoparticle-free products, exercise caution when applying loose mineral make-up.

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