The European Union’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP) recently addressed the concerns of nanomaterials in cosmetics in the report, The Safety of Nanomaterials in Cosmetic Products.

The SCCP suggests that new risk assessment methodologies may be needed for nanoparticles in cosmetics.

The report distinguishes insoluble and biopersistent nanoparticles and those which are soluble and/or biodegradable.  The SCCP is primarily concerned with the uptake method of the nanomaterials, as they are applied directly to the skin in a cosmetic context. 

The report states that "At present, there is inadequate information on: i) hazard identification, ii) exposure assessment, iii) uptake (including physiologically normal and compromised human skin), iv) the role of physico-chemical parameters of nanoparticles determining absorption and
transport across membranes in the gut and lungs, v) the role of physico-chemical parameters of nanoparticles in systemic circulation determining biokinetics and accumulation in secondary target organs, vi) possible health effects (including susceptible individuals), vii) translocation of nanoparticles via the placenta to the fetus."

The SCCP concludes that the primary risk is associated with those nanoparticles that are insoluble, and that current risk assessment methodologies may not be adequate.  It does state that current risk assessments may be adequate for the soluble form of nanoparticles.

The question of risk assessment is coming more and more to the forefront, both in Europe and in the United States.  The key question to nanotechnology regulation hinges on the amount of information we have in order to set reasonable regulations, and this is the first study I’ve seen that attempts to draw the line between different types of nanomaterials suggesting that the type matters.  Should this be the case, it seems entirely appropriate that different risk assessment methods be used to quantify the risk posed by each.