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New study says nanoparticles don’t penetrate the skin

01 October 2012

Researchers at the University of Bath are challenging claims that nanoparticles in medicated and cosmetic creams are able to transport and deliver active ingredients deep inside the skin.

This microscopy image shows the nanoparticles in green on the skin's surface
This microscopy image shows the nanoparticles in green on the skin's surface

Nanoparticles are used in sunscreens and some cosmetic and pharmaceutical creams. But a University of Bath study has discovered that even the tiniest of nanoparticles do not penetrate the skin’s surface, presenting implications for pharmaceutical researchers and cosmetic companies that design skin creams with nanoparticles that are supposed to transport ingredients to the deeper layers of the skin.

However the findings will also allay safety concerns that potentially harmful nanoparticles such as those used in sunscreens can be absorbed into the body.

The scientists used a technique called laser scanning confocal microscopy to examine whether fluorescently-tagged polystyrene beads, ranging in size from 20 to 200 nanometers, were absorbed into the skin.

They found that even when the skin sample had been partially compromised by stripping the outer layers with adhesive tape, the nanoparticles did not penetrate the skin’s outer layer, known as the stratum corneum.

Professor Richard Guy from the University’s Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology, who led the study, said: “Previous studies have reached conflicting conclusions over whether nanoparticles can penetrate the skin or not.

“Using confocal microscopy has allowed us to unambiguously visualise and objectively assess what happens to nanoparticles on an uneven skin surface. Whereas earlier work has suggested that nanoparticles appear to penetrate the skin, our results indicate that they may in fact have simply been deposited into a deep crease within the skin sample.

“The skin’s role is to act as a barrier to potentially dangerous chemicals and to reduce water loss from the body. Our study shows that it is doing a good job of this.

“So, while an unsuspecting consumer may draw the conclusion that nanoparticles in their skin creams, are ‘carrying’ an active ingredient deep into the skin, our research shows this is patently not the case.”

The results of the work, published in the Journal of Controlled Release, suggest that it might be possible to design a new type of nanoparticle-based drug formulation that can be applied to the skin and give controlled release of a drug over a long period of time.

This would enable sustained delivery of the active drug, potentially reducing the frequency with which the patient would have to apply the formulation to the skin.

Discussing the risks of nanotechnology
The Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network (NanoKTN) has announced details of a one-day seminar it is hosting in partnership with Safenano – Europe's Centre of Excellence on Nanotechnology Hazard and Risk.

The event, to be held on October 11 2012 at Begbroke Science Park, Yarnton, Oxford brings together experts in occupational health and toxicity with nanomaterial producers and providers of analytical facilities to present experience regarding effective testing and methods and methodologies to evaluate nanomaterials thoroughly and to the satisfaction of producers through to consumers.

Nanomaterials are now finding use in many different applications that can offer significant business opportunities for new and existing products by increasing performance, replacing toxic alternatives and also completely displacing inferior and wasteful technologies. Nanomaterial producers and users need to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of their products and look to gather data for safety assessments within the relevant regulatory frameworks.

A key topic of discussion at the meeting will be input to a new FP7 project, ITS-Nano, which is seeking to develop Intelligent Testing Strategies for Nanomaterials. Details of this project will be presented by Dr Steve Hankin and Dr Craig Poland of Safenano. This event will also offer an opportunity to share industrial experience of developing nanomaterials and will provide input to this project on behalf of UK nano industry. Other speakers include Endomagnetics Ltd, Intrinsiq Materials Ltd, Harlan Laboratories Ltd, MHRA, CXR Biosciences Ltd and the University of Leeds.

Dr Eric Mayes from Endomagnetics Ltd will talk about Regulatory and Supply Chain Testing Challenges for Nanomaterials in Medical Devices. Using a case study of Endomagnetics Ltd, Dr Mayes will outline the key regulatory and supply chain challenges in bringing a nanomaterial-based medical device to market. The presentation will highlight the advantage of early engagement with regulators and using a strategy of extension of existing material approvals rather than instigating new testing programmes.  

Dr Paul Reip from Intrinsiq Materials Ltd will discuss the Development of Characterisation Processes for Nanomaterials Applications. The review will outline the approach taken by Intrinsiq Materials in developing a new set of nanomaterials applications for the Printed Electronics and PV areas. After several years of materials developments, Intrinsiq Materials has moved from the proof of principle stage through to applications developments, with partners varying from Government agencies, to SMEs and Corporates.

Dr Barry Park, Theme Manager at the NanoKTN comments, “The UK is playing a truly international role in providing research capabilities, leadership and rational debate and we have brought together all the key stakeholders to deliver a seminar to debate intelligent testing strategies for nanomaterials. The NanoKTN is committed to facilitating knowledge exchange in the debate on these new strategies to improve competitiveness of UK industry overall, and we are pleased to be working alongside Safenano to assist and promote this process.”

The event is relevant to all stakeholders interested in the effective testing and methods and methodologies to evaluate nanomaterials and will also provide an opportunity to meet the experts and explore business and research opportunities with others through the exhibition and lunchtime networking sessions.

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