A study has demonstrated inter-generational harm resulting from exposure to a commonly used nanoparticle, titanium dioxide. A group of Japanese researchers have shown the transfer of nanoparticles from pregnant mice to their offspring, with related brain damage, nerve system damage and reduced sperm production in male offspring. Titanium dioxide is one of the most widely used nanoparticles, found in cosmetics, sunscreens, food packaging, household cleaning products and appliances, paints, dirt repellant coatings for windows and many other applications. The authors of the study warn “Our findings suggest the need for great caution to handle the nanomaterials for workers and consumers”. Carbon fullerenes have also previously been shown to damage developing mouse embryos.

Fullerenes (otherwise known as ‘buckyballs’) are used in high-end moisturisers and anti-ageing creams. It is still unknown to what extent nano-titanium dioxide worn in sunscreens and cosmetics will penetrate healthy, intact adult skin and gain access to the blood stream. However nano-titanium dioxide is commonly used in moisturisers and anti-ageing creams which contain penetration enhancers specifically designed to promote skin uptake of active ingredients. Compromised skin – for example, where someone has pimples, ezcema or sunburn – may not be an effective barrier to particle uptake.

It has already been demonstrated that fullerenes do penetrate intact skin, especially when skin is flexed or exposed to penetration enhancers. The fact that millions of consumers and workers of child-bearing age may face regular exposure to these nanoparticles is extremely concerning.