Scare stories about the dangers of cosmetics always grab headlines. Whether they are put out by fearmongering groups, politicians or even researchers, these stories are gobbled up by a less-than-scientifically-literate public. Or at least by a media that seems keen to propagate them.
One of the most recent examples that I saw was this story about Gold nanoparticles and wrinkles. According to researchers at Stony Brook University, NY, gold nanoparticles may accelerate aging, increase wrinkling and slow the wound-healing process. They base this on an interaction that they noticed between gold nanoparticles and human cells in the laboratory.
Giant leap to wrinkles
The research is interesting enough and raises a number of follow-up questions like
1. What is it about the nanoparticles that is interfering with cells?
2. Does it matter if they are gold nanoparticles or is it any nanoparticle?
3. How long does the effect last?
4. Do gold nanoparticles penetrate skin deep enough to see this effect in real life?
The last question is the most relevant to me. Remember this study was conducted on human skin cell lines in a laboratory. There are lots of substances that can have an in-vitro effect that does not show up when tested on actual people. Making the logical leap that gold nanoparticles will cause wrinkling is equivalent to making the logical leap that any number of anti-aging compounds will decrease wrinkling. Just because it works in the lab doesn’t mean that’s what happens in real life. If the nanoparticles do not penetrate to the level of living cells, they will have no negative effect on skin.
Who uses gold nanoparticles?
There is one more fundamental problem with this study. One of the researchers claim that
“Gold nanoparticles are in cosmetics because they have such interesting colors. You can get yellows and browns, all the way down to blues and purples…”
This is wrong!
Gold is not an approved colorant for cosmetics.
As far as I know, gold nanoparticles are not regularly used in cosmetic or personal care products. Where did these researchers get the idea that they were?
This seems to happen frequently with academic researchers. They know a lot about a focused area of research, but they completely miss the big picture.