We are hearing the term Nanotechnology used more frequently in marketing of skin care products, and while the term sounds like it belongs in robotics and science fiction, it is rapidly becoming a reality in medicine and skin care. Currently, there are approximately three new products incorporating Nanotechnologies being released per week across the heath and beauty sectors, with over 360 products going to market since 2005.
As few people really understand what the technology is, its benefits or what the potential implications of its use are, we decided to create this overview.
The type of Nanotechnology that is most significant in the beauty, skin care and health sectors is the use of nanoparticles (Or buckyballs as they are known in the industry), and it is a specific type of these Nanoparticles that have been touted as the next generation of Liposomes.
Nanosomes are one of the most recognised names for the nanoparticles used in skin care and cosmetic products, and we are also familiar with the term liposome, so this similarity between the two is the perhaps the best way to explain what Nanosomes are.
We know Liposomes are microscopic, fluid-filled spheres whose walls are made of layers of phospholipids analogous to the phospholipids that make up cell membranes in our skin.
Liposomes can be custom designed for almost any need by varying the lipid content, size, surface charge and method of preparation, making them suitable for delivery systems for drugs, vitamins and cosmetic materials.
Active ingredients are encapsulated in the Liposomes, and as mentioned, the liposome wall is very similar, physiologically, to the material of cell membranes. When the active solution entrapped within Liposomes is applied to the skin, the Liposomes begin to combine
with the cellular membranes. In the process, the Liposomes release their payload of active materials into the cells. As a consequence, not only is delivery of the actives very specific: directly into the intended cells; but the delivery takes place over a longer period of time.
The disadvantage with conventional large, liposomes (Typically 1 micron in size) are that they are actually liposomes within liposomes, and have a limited ability to penetrate narrow blood vessels or into the skin to a significant degree. Consequently, some of the materials that are entrapped in the inner layers of these liposomes may in certain conditions be virtually un-releasable.
Nanosomes (or nanoparticles) are very small, single or double bilayer Liposomes that are so small they are measured in the Nanometer range, (Hence the name)and are approximately 800 times smaller (Typically 50 Nanometers in size) than the diameter of the human hair. Nanosomes can be up to twenty times smaller than liposomes,
dependant on type, and these tiny, liposomes differ from their larger brothers in both composition and manufacturing process.
Nanosomes are composed from much higher quality phospholipids ingredients than the commercial lecithin that larger liposomes are created from, some with higher percentages of phosphatidylcholine (PC), one of the essential components of cell membranes.
Lecithin, a commonly used source for Liposomes typically contains only 10-20% phosphatidylcholine, however higher grades used to create Nanosomes may contain up to 40% phosphatidylcholine. Because the higher-grade materials that make up the Nanosomes
are believed to possess more mammalian molecular characteristics than conventional Liposomes, they possess greater non- antigenic properties and are more biodegradable.
Some of the processes to create Nanosomes include the use of high-pressure Supercritical fluids or subjecting large, multiple-layer liposomes to ultrasonic
energy. These processes are complex, lengthy, and extremely delicate. Consequently, the cost to produce Nanosomes is more expensive than conventional liposomes.
Since Nanosomes made with various phospholipid types can contain, encapsulate, and mobilise both water soluble materials as well as oil soluble materials, not only can they deliver a wide variety of encapsulated ingredients to cells, but in the cases of higher grades of materials, also deliver phosphatidylcholine (PC), to help feed the cells' own building block.
The PC phospholipid molecule is a universal building block for cell membranes, and the cell's membranes are its essence: they regulate the vast majority of the activities that make up life. This unique ability of high purity PC Nanosomes is claimed to render them potentially one of the most powerful available tools in combating cellular aging.
Due to such small size, (the interstices of the outer layer of skin measure about 100 nanometers), Nanosomes can more easily penetrate into the skin by topical application, with their active ingredients entrapped inside them more efficiently transported and delivered to desired target cells.
Nanosomes allow the delivery of active ingredients, vitamins and even sun protection compounds to lower levels of the skin, and it is these contents of the Nanosomes, which are creating concerns in some factions.
In 2005, concerns were raised by both the UKs Royal Society (Britains most prestigious scientific body) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States regarding what effect the minute particles may have if they enter cells in the human body or leach into the bloodstream, and called for for a comprehensive programme of research, and potentially a trialling and licensing system be introduced for hi-tech cosmetics similar to that used for pharmaceuticals.
In a recent report, the Royal Society stressed that because nanoparticles often have their own chemical properties, they should be treated as new chemicals under both UK and European legislation, in an effort to initiate appropriate safety testing and labelling.
(It recommends that any products containing nanoparticles be labelled as such)
The Societies concern is that manufacturers ensure that the toxicologal tests that they use recognise that nanoparticles of a given chemical will often have different properties to the same chemical in its larger form and may have greater toxicity.
Biochemists at the University of Calgary in Canada claim to have concluded from research conducted with high-powered computing resources running cell behaviour simulations that nanoparticles are able to dissolve in animal cell membranes, pass into cells and re-form particles on the other side where they have the potential to cause damage to the cells.
Nanotechnology, which was originally employed in man-made fibres and pharmaceuticals, has also been derided by some perhaps over cautious public identities, and has in some circles provoked similar fears to those sparked by genetic modification, although no harmful effects have yet been proved.
In the United states, an organisation called The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) stated that funding on Nanotechnology risk research in the US is lacking, and believe that more should be spent to clarify public perceptions about risks - real and perceived.
Despite organisations such as the Royal Society and the FDA stating that very little is known about the interaction of nano-scale particles and the skin, and what the long-term effects might be in the bloodstream, cosmetic giants globally believe the future of skin care and anti-ageing products lies with nanotechnology and is investing millions of dollars annually in the development of new delivery systems. The LOral company currently owns over two dozen patents on nanosome particles alone.
Industry experts see the use of Nanotechnology and the incorporation of nanoparticles into skin care formulations as an area of immense potential for a category that continues to witness some of the largest annual sales growth.
With all new technologies there will always be concerns over the impact or effect it will have on the user, with Nanotechnology and Nanosomes no different.
With increased ability to physiologically alter the skin cells with these new technologies, the old question whether a treatment or product is cosmetic or therepeutic raises its ugly head once more.
2008 Virtual Beauty Corp