The XX Factor

The Latest in Supercreams: Nano Particles!

An interesting article about the use of nanotechnology-ultra-teensy particles-in cosmetics appears in this week’s New Haven Independent . Journalist Alex Halperin explains that the FDA is not testing the safety or efficacy of nanotech particles despite the fact that there is widespread concern. The lack of credible safety information is especially frustrating when it comes to cosmetics because cosmetics do not undergo safety testing. Nor do cosmetics have to perform as advertised. So what is it women are buying when they buy, to use Halperin’s example, Chantecaille’s 1.7 ounce pots of “Nano Gold Energizing Cream Aromacologie”? What we don’t know can, in fact, hurt us.

Now, ladies and gentlemen-but especially ladies-this article presents an occasion for a helpful reminder: The FDA has zero oversight over cosmetics. However, cosmetic companies are supposed to refrain from promoting unguents that claim to alter the structure or function of any part of our bodies, including skin. Which means cosmetics companies are supposed to refrain from promoting products that prevent or reduce wrinkles, enhance collagen production, lighten skin, etc. According to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, products that make these claims are, by definition, misbranded drugs. If a company wants to market a product that makes a drug claim, it must go through FDA testing for safety and efficacy.

Until the FDA cracks down (as they did in the late 1980s), companies will keep making and marketing scientific-sounding goop-slapped with the label “nano” or “cosmeceutical” or “hypoallergenic” or “allergy free” or “dermatologist tested,” which may or may not be true for ingredients that may or may not actually work.

Until the FDA decides that ladies deserve what is legally their right to know-the safety and efficacy of what we put on (and, as we now know from advances in dermatology and nanotechnology, into) our bodies, it’s best to ignore the words altogether and shop for pretty packaging like our grandmothers did. This way, at least we know what we’re paying for. Despite scientific advances and cosmetic medicine, women are expected to retain an atavistic approach to beauty products: It’s all hope in a jar. We must hope that the goop works, and we must hope that it doesn’t harm us.