Soil Association first organisation in the world to ban nanoparticles - potentially toxic beauty products that get right under your skin

potentially toxic beauty products that get right under your skin!OpenDocument

SOURCE: Soil Association, UK
AUTHOR: Press Release
DATE: 01.17.2008

As of January 2008, the Soil Association has banned the use of man-made nanomaterials from all Soil Association certified organic products. [1] This applies particularly to health and beauty products, but also to food and textiles. Ahead of the Government [2], we are the first organisation in the world to take action against this hazardous, potentially toxic technology that poses a serious new threat to human health.

Whilst the Soil Association recognises there may be benefits from nanotechnology - it has the potential to radically, and positively, transform many sectors of industry including medicine (e.g. delivering drugs that target specific cells) and for renewable energy such as fuel and solar power. Yet, of the $9 billion per year being invested globally in nanotechnology, much is going to the development of cosmetics and health products. Many well-known companies such as L'Oreal, Unilever, Boots and Lancome are already developing and introducing these super fine particles into their products and none of these products are required to have labelling to warn consumers. [3]

Yet there is little scientific understanding about how these substances affect living organisms, indeed initial studies show negative effects. Three years ago, scientists advised the Government that the release of nanoparticles should be ".avoided as far as possible".. Though the Government acknowledged the risks, no action has been taken to impose controls. Following the precautionary approach, in line with organic principles, the Soil Association Standard's Board has banned manufactured nanoparticles as ingredients under our organic standards. We are the first organisation in the world to take regulatory action against the use of nanoparticles to safeguard the public. This initiative goes to the core of the organic movement's values of protecting human health.

Gundula Azeez, Soil Association policy manager, said:
".The Soil Association is the first organisation in the world to ban nanoparticles. There should be no place for nanoparticles in health and beauty products or food. We are deeply concerned at the government's failure to follow scientific advice and regulate products. There should be an immediate freeze on the commercial release of nanomaterials until there is a sound body of scientific research into all the health impacts. As we saw with GM, the government is ignoring the initial indications of risk and giving the benefit of the doubt to commercial interest rather than the protection of human health". [4]

Professor Vyvyan Howard, nanotechnology researcher at University of Ulster, said:
".The term nanotechnology covers a vast range of applications. Many are not threatening at all, such as nano-structured surfaces for self cleaning glass. But in the areas of health and beauty and food more research must be done. There is considerable evidence that nanoparticles are toxic and potentially hazardous".

For more information please contact:

Soil Association press office: 0117 914 2448 /

Gundula Azeez, Soil Association policy manager: 0117 987 4560 / 07835 260 134

Professor Vyvyan C Howard, nanotech researcher at the University of Ulster: 0151 794 7833

Jim Thomas, nanotech policy researcher at ETC, an international technology watchdog: 07876 122 266 /

Notes to editors:

[1] This new standard bans man-made nanomaterials whose basic particle size is less than 125nm and whose mean particle size is less than 200nm.


Nanotechnology is concerned with the manipulation of matter on the atomic and molecular scale to produce new materials. A nanometre (nm) is a millionth of a millimetre (one 80,000th of the width of a human hair) and a nanoparticle is generally defined as particles of chemicals that are within the range 0.2-100nm.

Nanotechnology can be applied to electronics, food, agriculture, medicines, cosmetics, textiles, energy generation and packaging as well as many other things. Examples of nanotechnology in commercial use include electrical circuits, transparent sun creams, targeted drug delivery, stain resistant clothing and self cleaning glass.

When the particle size of a chemical is so tiny, its properties change and chemicals exhibit novel 'quantum' effects, presenting possible new dangers such as unidentified toxicity or changed electrical properties. The tiny size also means that nanoparticles have abnormally high levels of solubility and mobility and can pass through the body's membranes - such as the membranes of our skin, lungs, intestines, the blood/brain barrier and the placenta. The fact that nanoparticles can reach all parts of our body means they may accumulate or override the normal control systems that manage our complex biochemistry, with unidentified health effects.

The Soil Association's concerns are related to man-made nanoparticles; we are not objecting to natural nanoparticles such as soot produced by volcanoes (life has evolved with these). It is also important to distinguish between natural processes that occur on the nano-scale (i.e. they involve the interaction of molecules), such as cell division, and artificial ones that are used to produce new materials.

[2] The Government's response so far?

In an attempt to avoid the controversies that arose around GM, the UK Government commissioned a report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. The 2004 report 'Nanosciences and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties' was widely welcomed and addressed the most important regulatory needs to protect the public. It recommended that the release of nanoparticles should be ".avoided as far as possible"., labelling of consumer products, and that research be conducted into the toxicity and bio-accumulation of nanoparticles and nanotubes. See:

In February 2005, the UK government responded to the report, agreeing with its conclusions. It said: ".As a precautionary measure...releases to the environment should be minimised until the possible risks...are better understood". It also said ".The government accepts that chemicals in the form of nanoparticles or nanotubes can exhibit different properties...Safety testing on the basis of a larger form of a chemical cannot be used to infer the safety of the nanoparticulate form...Ingredients in the form of manufactured free nanoparticles should undergo a thorough safety assessment...before they are used in consumer products. The government believes in the consumer being able to make informed choices". See:

However, three years later, no regulations have been adopted. A voluntary industry labelling scheme is being developed - the Soil Association is on the working group - but some of the major companies that are developing consumer products with nanomaterials are believed to be reluctant to support labelling proposals (such as L'Oreal).

[3] Nanomaterials: Undersized, unregulated and already here, Corporate Watch (2007)

Consumers unaware of nano-revolution, Which? press release (20 Dec 2007)

Nanomaterials are also being used in: L'Oreal 'Plenitude Revitalift' anti-wrinkle cream, Lancome's Renergie Lift, Almay's Clear Complexion Concealer, various Neutrogena cosmetics by Johnson and Johnson, Olay's All Day Complete Care cream with UV protection and Revlon's ColourStay range.

Nanotechnology is widely used in sunscreens, including the popular Boots Soltan range. Titanium dioxide is used as a white pigment in a range of products such as paint and food colouring. It is also used in sunscreens for its ability to scatter UV light, where it is seen as a 'non-toxic mineral' alternative to chemically acting sun creams. However, research has shown that nano-sized titanium dioxide - which makes the sunscreen transparent and therefore more marketable - ".might be toxic to various types of cell"., can enter the brain and may trigger cell death.

Additionally, US Government research has found that nano-size titanium dioxide particles cause 'oxidative stress' in the brain cells of mice which may promote neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's (Nature, 16 June 2006). A European scientific committee considered the safety of using particle coatings for titanium dioxide, in collaboration with the industry, and afterwards pronounced the commercial use of all types of titanium dioxide safe. However, the committee did not consider the safety of exposure to nano-sized particles and serious concerns remain.

[4] Is nanotechnology like GM?

There are many parallels with GM in the way nanotechnology is developing. As with GM:

- Commercial opportunities have run ahead of scientific understanding and regulatory control. The risks of nanotechnology are still largely unknown, untested and unpredictable.

- The industry is trying to win over Government backing with compelling claims about the benefits of the technology and win over consumers by promoting individual products, whilst neglecting the fundamental issues of safety.

- Initial studies show some negative effects and there is a list of potential health impacts that have yet to be investigated by scientists.

- Regulators have not reacted to the scientific evidence of health effects for products that are already commercialised (titanium dioxide nanoparticles), instead accepting industry reassurances and unpublished industry evidence.

- The standard of proof is being set very high for any concerns, but low for reasons to dismiss concerns and without the context of a body of established scientific knowledge to judge conflicting arguments.

- Concerns are being downplayed on the basis of absence of any consensus over health problems and with arguments that some nanoparticles occur in nature or have been produced by industry for some time (true, but not on the scale and with the chemical range being developed now; anyway health concerns exist for some of these such as air pollution).

What is worse than GM is that there is no official assessment process or labelling of the products, and nano-substances are being rapidly introduced to the market. This is a very bad starting point for the responsible introduction of a powerful new technology.



Small particles of chemicals where at least one dimension is less than 100 nm. Nanoparticles can be made from a wide range of materials. These include single elements such as iron, silver and carbon; simple molecules such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (both used in sun creams); through to complex molecules such as pharmaceuticals. A number of different methods are used to make nanoparticles, including high temperature processes, chemical reactions and attrition (milling or grinding).


L'Oreal, Johnson & Johnson and Estee Lauder use nanocapsules in some of their products to deliver active ingredients deeper into the skin. They are also called 'nanosomes' or nanoscale liposomes. Nanocapsules are small droplets of liquid, often slightly bigger than nanoscale, enclosed in a nano-thick shell. They are essentially a delivery mechanism designed to get an active ingredient to a specific location, releasing their contents only under certain conditions. Currently they are used in cosmetics to deliver active chemicals deeper into the skin and some nutrient supplements for enhanced absorption.

They are also being developed for use in some foods (such as a low fat mayonnaise where the suspended oil droplets are only made of a thin shell of oil, rather then entire droplets of oil) and pharmaceuticals.


These are suspensions of nanosized droplets of one liquid (such as an oil) in another liquid (such as water). They have an extremely high surface tension, and when in contact with single celled organisms such as bacteria or fungal spores, they rupture the cells, killing the organisms. They are toxic to microbes at levels that are not irritating to the skin. While this may have a use in medicine, future uses may include consumer products such as detergents and shampoos. The Soil Association's concern is that environmental sterility in domestic situations - such as a depleted bacterial population on the skin or on household surfaces - is not a healthy objective. There is scientific evidence that exposure to normal levels of benign environmental bacteria is important, particularly for children, for the development of a healthy immune system and to avoid the development of allergies and other immune disorders that are of increasing prevalence due to excessive hygiene in many modern households. (New Scientist, 16 April 2005)

Carbon 'bucky balls'

These are molecules composed of 60 atoms of carbon, arranged into a football-shaped hollow sphere. The full technical name is Buckminster fullerene molecules. They are already being used in some very expensive face creams. For example, the London-based company Zelens uses buckyballs in their day and night cream. It claims that they scavenge 'free radicals' and thus protect against aging. But there are disputed reports of toxic effects. (".Nanocosmetics: Buyer Beware. Is that expensive jar of skin cream on my dresser safe to use?"., Technology Review, March/April 2007).


'Nanotubes' are tubular structures commonly made of carbon. They are 1 to 2 nm in diameter. At their simplest, nanotubes are a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a cylinder (single-wall carbon nanotubes). Carbon nanotubes have a number of interesting properties. They are very strong (100 times stronger than steel), very light (one sixth the weight of steel) and they have unique electrical properties (10 times more conductive than copper). A wide range of applications are being developed including additives to plastics and other composites (to increase strength and conductivity), flat panel displays and energy storage (batteries and fuel cells).