Top Menu

Nano Particles are they in YOUR makeup?

Nanoparticles in Mineral Makeup: Original post 2/5/10

brush/powdered makeup

airborne makeup- Does it contain nanoparticles?


This is an older post that I did on Nanoparticles in mineral makeup it was originally posted in 2010.  When I first wrote it, nanoparticles were not even that well known by many. There was one very vocal well known, opponent, who will remain nameless in this post, but essentially lumped ALL mineral cosmetics into the nanoparticle category, AND deemed ALL mineral makeup, as a whole, unsafe. I found that to be objectionable, as you can imagine. It is one thing for someone not to like your product, ( it happens) not like mineral style makeup, ( WHAT? yup) and frankly, to not trust a smaller, less known brand. (the OPPOSITE of how I tend to feel), but to actually be lumped into a category into which you conscientiously, and for your clients’ safety, decided NOT to inlcude yourself, and essentally be BLAMED as evil to an alarmingly large portion of the population is, well, it’s appalling.  And irresponsible on this well known person’s end.

Here is a modified version with name removed.

Some worry about powdered, mineral makeup as hazardous to women’s health. Many make further claims minerals should be avoided in favor of liquid or cream based makeup, as all mineral makeup contains nanoparticles, which cause damage to the alveoli in the lungs when inhaled. While I can certainly respect anyone’s preference for liquid or cream based makeup, I cannot say the same about the OPINION of the hazards of mineral makeup, or “research” of the subject matter. (in reagards to the “expert” mentioned above)

My first, and primary reason, is simply that all mineral makeup does not contain nanoparticles. Yes, some do, Mine do not, and never will.

First we need to understand exactly what a nanoparticle is. Mineral makeup is just one of many substances measured in microns/micrometers or mesh- 1/64th of an inch =615 microns, 1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter & a nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter. These are standard units of measurement, derived by calculating the particle’s diameter.
coarse= particles with an average diameter of less than 10 microns
fine= particles with an average diameter of less than 2.5 microns
ultrafine or nano = particles with an average diameter of less than .1 microns or less than 100 nm
The general scientific thought is that particles at:
.07 microns can enter lung alveoli
.05 microns may enter cells
.03 Microns may enter Central Nervous System
&.02 no Data yet

The Titanium Dioxide (Tio2) I use in my products is 1-1.7 microns, with an average micron size of 1.5. The Zinc Oxide I use is .31 microns. Both would qualify as “Fine”. White or colored micas are in another category and usually don’t fall below the 10 micron size. In mica the lower the micron size the more matte, the higher the micron size the more sparkly it becomes. The opposite is true in base ingredients- the nanoparticles are more translucent, while still offering SPF properties inherent in Titanium Dioxide &  Zinc Oxide. This is why many cosmetic companies do choose to use nanoparticles, to offer SPF in sunscreens or in otherwise SPF devoid products- like untinted moisturizers & other makeup in which Tio2 or Zinc are merely colorants rather than base ingredients. (An indication of this could be if they are listed under May Contain as colorants, rather than in the main ingredients portion of the cosmetic label, as per FDA labeling regulations.)


Do you know what’s in your makeup?


Though the FDA is certainly not helping, by having no clear cut, or, at least ineffectual listing, nomenclature, or categorization of ingredients.
This is from the National Geographic’s Green Guide site:

“Micronized” doesn’t necessarily mean “nanoparticles.” Both terms have to do with the sizes of particles: Microns are one millionth of a meter, while nanometers (nm) are one billionth of a meter. Basically, 1,000 nm = 1 micron. The confusion over terminology has to do with the fact that the FDA has set no actual definition for the term “micronized” when used in reference to personal care products. Some companies use the term “micronized” to describe particles that are measured in microns, while other companies use it to describe particles that undergo what the dictionary defines as “reducing to particles of only a few microns in diameter.” Since the FDA has no set definition, some companies misleadingly advertise nano-sized particles (particles measured in billionths of a meter) as “micronized” (particles measured in millionths of a meter), which is why we feel it’s important to ask for specific particle sizes when you’re purchasing a product that contains either “micronized” or “nanoparticle” ingredients. The manufacturers we spoke with for this article assured us that their micronized products do in fact use micron-sized, and not nano-sized, ingredients.

Quoted from Emily Main, Green Guide Associate Editor

the Green Guide

Now,  nanoparticles have for some time been suspected of having negative health implication, and yet lumping all minerals in the dangerous category is certainly not going to be helpful in discussing the very REAL concern involving this one aspect of the industry.

Another compelling reason I feel this person is not an accurate authority, and lacks the credibility on the topic of nanoparticles is that, they completely ignored a second, and equally important property and that is, that nano particles, when buffed or rubbed onto the skin, are suspected, not proven mind you, but suspected to be small enough to actually travel through the pores of the skin, and be absorbed into the blood stream. (based on the sizes posted above, it is VERY likely) These metals, yes they are oxidized metals-though not toxic like lead or arsenic, can be absorbed into your blood stream. Since our bodies are not equipped to filter these out, initial research shows that they can build up in secondary organs, and that cannot be healthy. Again, these are nanoparticles only, and other micron sizes are too large to penetrate the skin’s protective surface.  Here is a link to an interview with a scientist currently conducting research, again addressing solely nanoparticles in cosmetic applications. “Do Nano Particles Penetrate the Skin”

I have had opportunities, while studying in college as a marine biology major, (betcha didn’t know that one did you?) to use an electron microscope, as he mentions in this interview. An electron microscope utilizes slide samples that are one cell layer in thickness, therefore determining the ability of a substance to pass through cell layers or pores using this technology would be easy, and most likely very accurate.


Titanium Dioxide under a scanning electron microscope

Zinc Oxide

Zinc Oxide under a scanning electron microscope


Another, overlooked potential hazard with nano-particulate matter is it’s apparent UV reactivity, as noted in the following passage from Occasional Paper Series, vol 7, no1, April 2003The Presumption of Innocence II – the case of nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide: Possibly the most ubiquitous use of nanoparticles todate is in cosmetics. Larger particles of titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO) have been used in sunscreens for decades since they both effectively scatter light including harmful UV rays. They act as physical “blockers” or “reflectors”giving sunscreens an opaque, white appearance. However, if the crystals are reduced to the nanoscale, both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide lose their characteristic white colour and become transparent, allowing visible light to pass but still blocking UV rays. Taking advantage of this nanoscale property change, companies including BASF and L’Oréal have created transparent sunscreens and UV-resistant cosmetics incorporating these metal oxide nanoparticles.25 Unfortunately, transparency isn’t the only change associated with these nanosized metal oxides. While both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are generally considered inert in their larger form, nanoparticles of both substances can be highly photo-reactive in the presence of UV light, which ispartially absorbed into the particle.26 As a result, nano-titanium dioxide, for example, can exert a
“strong oxidizing power that attacks organic molecules”27 and can produce free radicals” (i.e., unstable fragments of molecules that are highly reactive).
You can read the full paper in the link below.

mineral pigments

Non- nanoparticle Mineral Pigments


Last night, at an event promoting my makeup line, this viral video was broached. I cannot pretend that this will not adversely affect my business. Which is precisely why I felt the need to respond- the small boutique formulators, as a group, tend to follow closely to FDA regulations, Choose the safer, organic, or more natural ingredients, and generally try to be more conscientious with what we put in our products. I believe in full disclosure- every ingredient I use is listed on a page at my website, as well as the label. Yes, there are those that don’t, and the large cosmetics corporations certainly have no need to pay attention to anything but profit margin if they choose- the fines are a pittance compared to what they make on the newest and latest “magic” ingredient; but what alarmists may not realize, is that with this irresponsible reporting, they could potentially put out of business the very people who are trying to do it better, healthier, and safer.

As for nanoparticles The research is still being conducted, and much more needs to be definitively proven, before ANY hard and fast conclusions can be determined, but this is also the reason why most of the mineral cosmetic formulators I know, myself included, choose not to include nanoparticle ingredients in our makeup- Until it is effectively proven safe, I cannot, and will not, expose my clients to potentially hazardous material. That would be as unethical as giving unsubstantiated advice.

More info on nanoparticles & potential hazard:

Journal of Nano Biotechnology

ETC Group Say no to Nano


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

five × five =