By  on September 10, 2007

It deals in the science of the infinitesimally small, but nanotechnology could contribute enormously to the fight against wrinkles, according to some industry executives.

The technology that processes matter so it becomes miniscule (one nanometer measures one billionth of a meter) is increasingly being used in a wide range of items, from stain-resistant fabrics to prosthetic heart valves. For the cosmetics industry, nanotechnology potentially offers myriad treatment opportunities.

"The main advantage of nanotechnology in skin care is new and improved delivery systems," said Marko Lens, a London-based research scientist, plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and founder of the Zelens treatment brand, who noted the technology first emerged more than 40 years ago with the introduction of liposomes. "These delivery systems actually allow ingredients contained in cosmetic formulations to penetrate and deliver skin benefits directly upon application."

"As a delivery system, nanotechnology can transport ingredients to an exact location in the skin, where you want them to go," continued Sven Gohla, vice president of research and development at Beiersdorf- owned La Prairie skin-care brand, in Zurich.

Lens gave the example of nanocarriers developed by University of Massachusetts researchers that encapsulate and transport vitamin E deeper into skin than traditional cosmetics.

Such advantages have sparked interest across multiple consumergoods categories. Among pioneer beauty brands already using nanotechnology are PureOlogy, a salon hair-care line recently purchased by L'Oréal; Colorescience makeup, and Kara Vita sun-care products.

"Analysts estimate that the market for [all nanotechnology-based] products is currently about ?2.5 billion [£1.7 billion/$3.5 billion] but could rise to hundreds of billions of euros by 2010 and ?1 trillion thereafter," according to the European Commission's "Towards a European Strategy for Nanotechnology" report.

Nanotechnology might be on a strong growth trajectory, but it's nonetheless controversial. Given the tiny size of nanoparticles and delivery systems, there are fears that products applied to the skin containing them may be absorbed in the bloodstream—making them more than simply cosmetic, according to some—with consequences yet unknown.

While Gohla and others maintain cosmetics containing nanotechnology have very low concentrations, skeptics abound.

"There's a huge amount of uncertainty about what's safe and unsafe," said Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor for the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. "We're not sure how to evaluate the long-term and short-term safety of [nanotechnology]."

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