Nanotechnology In Food And Cosmetics Biology Essay


Nanotechnology can be defined as a system of innovative methods to understand, control, measure and manipulate matter at near-atomic scale to change the properties and functions of materials and produce new materials, structures and devices.

A number of physical phenomena become pronounced as the size of the system decreases. Size is an important property which affects various other properties like increasing the surface area to volume ratio, chemical reactivity, absorption capability etc.

Nanotechnology in Food: Nanotechnology is used in all aspects of the food chain, i.e. agriculture, food manufacturing, food packaging, food storage etc. Nanotechnology is considered as a new industrial revolution in food and agriculture in both developed and developing countries. The nanoized version of several materials is used to create new improve existing flavors or ones and extend shelf-life of fruits and vegetables by thin nanocoatings. Nanotechnology is used in agriculture to detect diseases and increase nutrient absorption in plants. Smart sensors and smart delivery systems are used in agriculture to detect early signs of pests and grocery stores to detect food at the end of shelf life.

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Nanotechnology in Cosmetics: In cosmetics, nanoparticles are used in deodorants, soap, toothpastes, shampoos, hair conditioners, sunscreens, anti-wrinkle creams, moisturizers, foundations, face powders, lipstick, blush, eye shadow, nail polish, perfumes and after-shave lotions. The materials involved in enhancing the functionalities of the cosmetics include various metal oxides and different forms of lipid formulations with nanoscaled droplets which improve the smoothness of creams and promise enhanced properties for anti-ageing or hair treatments. They are used as UV filters in sunscreens and delivery agents in the creams and hair lotions.

Concerns: Seeing the vast usage of nanotechnology in food and cosmetics, it is essential to identify the possible hazards related to the existing and foreseen applications in the food and cosmetics area and to provide guidance for risk assessment. We should target at improving customer satisfaction not profits.  It is necessary to have proper regulations and screening tests to protect the environment.


Nanotechnology uses materials on an incredibly small scale so that they take on special and improved properties compared to their bulk form. The technology has the potential to transform many of the everyday consumer products that we use. Nanotechnology is the key technology of the twenty-first century, having enormous potential for innovation and growth.

What is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology refers to engineered materials which operate at a size of 100 nm or less. It is the science of transforming individual atoms/molecules into structures from which different materials and devices can be made. There are two different approaches to nanotechnology- bottom up (smaller components built up into more complex assemblies) and top-down (reduces larger particles by the use of chemico-physico methods).

Nanotechnology comes from the Greek word "nano" meaning "dwarf". These materials have different properties from bulk due to differences in electrical, physical, chemical reactivity, magnetic and optical properties. The physical laws governing the properties of atoms and molecules are different from those governing the properties of larger objects, but by "quantum mechanics". They could have different behavior with respect to color, solubility, material strength, electrical conductivity, magnetic behavior, chemical reactivity and biological activity.

Figure 1 shows applications of nanotechnology in food science. It shows the different nanomaterials used, processes used for development of products for different applications in delivery, formulation and packaging. It also shows different methods for their processing and their usage in food security in the form of nanosensors and nanotracers[1].

Figure 1 Application matrix of nanotechnology in food science [1]

Nanotechnology in Agriculture:

Nanotechnology is used in agriculture to detect and treat diseases and improve plants nutrient absorption capabilities. Smart sensors and smart delivery systems are used to detect pests affecting the crops. Research is being done to develop nanostructured catalysts to increase the efficiency of pesticides by using in smaller doses. Alternative energy supplies, filters or catalysts could be used to control pollution.

Nanosensors are spread across the field to monitor soil conditions and growth of crops. They are used in grocery stores to enable shop keepers identify food items that have passed their expiry date. Nanosensors with carbon nanotubes are small enough to trap and sense small molecules. Nanoparticles can generate an electrical signal on detection of contaminants. In the future, plant health issues could be identified even before they become visible to the farmer and respond by a remedial action. Nanoparticles in smart targeted delivery systems and smart sensors can make agriculture systems "smart". [2]

Electrospun cotton:

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Figure 2 shows electrospinning of nanofibres from cellulose to form cotton. Cellulose is dissolved in ethyl diamine which is squeezed out through a small hole through which voltage is applied. The charge developed due to the voltage pulls the glucose solution into a fiber. This electrospun cotton can be used in protective clothing, air-filtration and agriculture nanotechnology. These cotton nanofibers absorb pesticides which could be used for targeted and timely delivery in agriculture. [3]

Figure 2 Nanofibers spun to form cotton [3]

Food Nanotechnology

For centuries, the taste, texture, flavor and aroma of food were dependent on the cook and the heat of the fire. There were preservatives added to improve food life but not that long. Today, research has brought out the potential of nanoized version of several additives which would improve existing flavors or create new ones. Nanotechnology can be applied in all phases of the food cycle "from farm to fork", i.e in agriculture, food processing, food packaging and food supplements. Nanononstick coatings have come into the market putting an end to shaking a ketchup bottle without clinging to the bottle. Nestle has come up with a nanoemulsion-based ice cream with a lower fat content retaining texture and flavor.

Nanotechnology is used in the development of food packaging to improve plastic material barriers. This helps to extend food (shelf) life by releasing preservatives, repair damages in packaging, improve food safety, alert consumers of contaminated food. Nanotechnology could be used to detect bacteria in packaging, improve food quality by producing stronger flavors and color quality. Organic market is growing in many countries. More and more processed food is offered every day.

Nanotechnology can be described as the new industrial revolution opening up a whole lot of new possibilities for the food industry. At present, USA leads in its nanotechnology investment through its National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). Japan and the European Union have also committed substantial funds towards the development of this technology and its applications to various fields. In developing countries though the funds may be lower, some countries do have substantial impact on the global stage. [4]


Figure 3 shows developing a controlled delivery system using nano-encapsulation. Food ingredients are trapped inside the nanoparticle shell which breaks only in stomach thus monitoring the release of the food ingredients. Nanoencapsulation is used to hide unpleasant flavors, prevent the food particles from spoilage during storage and improve solubility of insoluble food particles. [5]

Figure 3 Nano-encapsulation [5]

Nano Cosmetics

Cosmetics are used in a variety of personal care products like sunscreens, anti-ageing creams, hair colors,etc. With the advent of nanotechnology, many nanoparticles are being used in these products which seem to have improved performance but at the same time have proved to be hazardous and toxic.

Enhancing cosmetic functionalities: Nanocosmetics is another area of interest attracting attention. Nanotechnology has the potential to change how cosmetics and drugs deliver benefits. Nanoparticles are being developed to encapsulate a wide range of ingredients benefical to the skin. In cosmetics, nanoparticles are used as UV filters and delivery vehicles that can enhance skin hydration and bioavailability. [6]

The nanoparticles used in the sunscreens become clear rather than white when compared to their larger form. Nanoparticles used in cosmetics are capable of protecting active compounds from oxidation, and improving their penetration through the skin layers which depends on the size of the molecule. Engineered materials can be found in sunscreens with efficient UV protection, long-lasting makeup, anti-ageing creams with an increased intake of vitamins or enzymes, toothpaste, and hair care or colouring products. Nanoparticles are used in many personal care products like foundation, deodorant, lipstick, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, sunscreen, anti-wrinkle cream, moisturizer, etc. Nanosomes, nanoemulsions and nanoencapsulated delivery systems are used in the field of cosmetics. [7]

Antimicrobial Nanoemulsions

They are composed of oil and water, having a broad spectrum activity against enveloped viruses, fungi and bacteria. Figure 4 shows how nanoemulsion particles fuse with lipid-containing organisms and improved fusion is caused due to electrostatic attraction between opposite charges on the pathogen. When enough nanoparticles fuse with pathogens, the energy trapped in the emulsion is released. The lipid membrane of the pathogen is destabilized by the released energy, resulting in cell rupture and death. They are used in antibacterial lotions and creams. [8]

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Figure 4 Antimicrobial emulsions [8]



Nanoengineered silver is used in coatings and sprays for its antimicrobial properties in food which degrade over time decreasing their efficiency and also releasing contaminants into surrounding environments. It is used in food packaging, processing and storage. It poses severe health risks preventing cell division, DNA damage and even cell death. Nanosilver has different physical and optical properties in contrast to bulk silver like:

Surfaces coated with nanosilver rapidly absorb glycoproteins from the tisuues and blood plasma

Inhibits biofilm formation.

Surface Plasmon resonance: Nanoparticles deposited on glass emit intense color.

Plasmonic heating: Silver nanoparticles used in polyelectrolyte capsules for controlled delivery can be activated remotely by laser radiation which causes transfer of heat to the enclosed material disrupting the enclosing polymer.

Enhances fluorescence

Silver resistance problem is solved: Some bacteria/fungi which are resistant to silver have been used to synthesize silver nanoparticles. [9]

TiO2 and ZnO nanoparticles

TiO2 coatings are used to manufacture self cleaning glasses since the surface becomes hydrophilic on coating. It has strong antimicrobial properties and is used as disinfectant to treat the food processing plant. Its photocatalytic power is used to destroy bacteria and its unique air purification capability is used to remove odors.

ZnO nanoparticles are transparent to visible light and can block UV light. The sunscreens use micronized titanium dioxide which increases the dermal absorption of several pesticides. This is a potential problem since insect repellants and sunscreens are simultaneously used most of the times.

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide used in sunscreens act as active photo-catalysts and generate free radicals in sunlight thus degrading sunscreen formulations and posing health risk. Reactive oxygen species are produced when titanium dioxide is exposed to UV radiation which can be reduced by surface coatings of the nanoparticles when used in sunscreens. [10]


They are globular nanostructures engineered to carry molecules on their surface or the inner void spaces. Figure 5 shows how the core and surface of the dendrimer is nanoengineered by nanoparticles that deliver multiple functionalities in cosmetics and drug delivery. They are used in adhesives and surface coatings. They are unique tree like polymers which are monodisperse i.e all the components have the same weight in contrast to other polymers which are polydisperse with different length chains. The branch density increases with generation. [11]

Figure 5 Representation of a fourth generation dendrimer [11]

Micelles and Liposomes

Micelles have a hydrophilic surface, a lipophilic core at the center formed by an assembly of surfactant molecules. Figure 6 shows the structure of a micelle. Liposomes have a very similar structure. They are used in food to improve food safety against microbial agents by encapsulating antimicrobial agents inside the lipophilic core. They also help in increasing shelf life and improve nutritional quality of food. Both liposomes and micelles are used for packaging vitamins and anti-ageing chemicals inside them. They are made up of hydrophilic fatty acid molecules which form a nanoglobe containing the vitamin or the anti-ageing formulation. The creams containing liposomes or micelles are easily absorbed by the skin. [12]

Figure 6 Structure of Micelle used in food safety [12]


Fullerenes are the third allotrope of carbon. A double layer of fullerenes acts as a stable substrate for fixing nanoparticles without change in their size and shape for a longer duration. They exhibit antimicrobial property and inhibit microbial growth. Its antioxidant and radical-scavenging properties are used in face creams for skin rejuvenation and is more efficient than Vitamin E. It is found that C-60 could cause brain damage in fish and toxic effects in human liver cells. Figure 7 shows a face cream which uses C-60 fullerene for anti-ageing by preventing oxidative cell damage or death. Figure 8 shows the structure of fullerene also called bucky ball which is a closed structure comprising of 12 pentagonal and variable hexagonal rings. [13]

Figure 7 Cream containing Fullerene C-60 [8] Figure 8 Carbon fullerene used in cosmetics [13]

Carbon nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes are used as fertilizers in agriculture which enhance rapid growth and increase yield. Tomato plants exposed to nanotubes grow bigger, faster and plentifully but safety concerns remain. [14]

Carbon nanotubes have been widely in food nanotechnology as conductors with low-resistance. Nanotubes can be formed by the self assembly of certain globular proteins in milk by self assembly under appropriate environmental conditions. This technique is used in immobilization of enzymes and building analogues to muscle-fiber structures. Figure 9 shows the structure of a carbon nanotube. [5]

Figure 9 Carbon Nanotube [5]

Chitin nanofibril

Chitin nanofibril is shaped like a thin needle (fibril) made up of a natural polysaccharide obtained from the crustacean exoskeleton by eliminating carbonate and protein portions. They are used in cosmetic dermatology and biotextiles because they are easily metabolized by the body's endogenous enzymes. It occurs naturally, bio- and eco-compatible and is safe to use. The appearance of photoaged skin can be improved and wounds could be healed by reducing hypertrophic scar formation. With different emulsions, chitin nanofibrils show good wound healing activity. Healthy biotextiles have also been produced using chitin nanofibril. They are also used in production of skin, water treatment, cosmetics and preservation of food. Figure 10 shows how chitin nanoparticles are used for wound healing. [15]


Figure 10 Wound healing activity of chitin nanofibrils [15]

Polysaccharide/Clay nanoparticles

They are formed by pumping carbohydrates and clay layers through high shear cell. These films are water impermeable which is a problem in many biopolymer films. Figure 11 shows the above described process of formation of clay nanoparticles. They exhibit good mechanical and barrier properties in humid environments. They are used to produce food packaging films which block oxygen, carbondioxide and moisture. These nanoparticles also make the package lighter and stronger. They are used in the inner core of tennis ball to prevent air from escaping the ball. [10]

Figure 11 Formation of clay nanolayer from nanocomposites [10]


However, there is uncertainty about the new risks these materials could present besides consumer benefits. Materials could behave differently in the body and be more toxic compared to larger forms. Nanoparticle toxicity can cause oxidative stress, inflammation, and damage proteins and DNA. A full safety assessment should be conducted on the nanoparticles before they are incorporated into personal care products and cosmetics.

The impact of nanotechnology on the environment, risks for workers, socioeconomic impacts and ethical problems are major concerns. There are no laws established to ensure that nanomaterials do not cause harm to the public using them. Many products are commercially available without adequate safety assessment and without any regulations. Nanomaterials ingested in huge doses or their increased exposure can have harmful effects on health. [16]

Products with nanoscale ingredients should be clearly labeled, to keep people informed of its contents and help them make a decision about using them. Personal care products pose great risk since they are used on a regular basis, are directly applied on the skin, may be inhaled and are often ingested. Also, many cosmetics contain ingredients that enhance penetration,thus increasing the possibililty of skin intake of nanomaterials and their entry into the blood stream.[17]

Is size a concern?

Size is an important factor in determining the potential toxicity of a particle. The known properties of larger sized particles do not help in predicting the toxicity of nanoparticles. There is a general relationship between particle size and toxicity. Smaller the size, greater is its surface area to volume ratio, and more likely it is to prove toxic. Quantum effects also dominate at nanoscale. Toxicity of the nanoparticles is a result of the increased chemical reactivity that accompanies a greater surface area to volume ratio. All these factors increase the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) found in nanomaterials like carbon fullerenes and nanotubes. Figure 12 shows increase in surface area with decrease in particle size. [5]

Figure 12 Relation between particle-size and surface area [5]


The future trends of nanotechnology in the agriculture and food industry is hard to predict. Trends of nanotechnology in food are driven by social priority areas to large-value commercial markets such as human health, agriculture and environment. Precision farming- making use of smart sensing systems for early warning of moisture changes and nanodelivery systems for pesticides which respond to different conditions has been a long-desired goal in agriculture.

In food industry, research on applying nanoparticles for developing smart packages will continue. Integrating sensing systems and radio frequency identification technology (RFID) thus linking packaging and logistic processes can be foreseen. While these transponder systems are currently very expensive, they would be cheaper in the future due to fusion of nanotechnology and electronics. Research on nanotechnology in the food industry is also aimed at developing products that improve the nutritional value of food. A novel application is biofortification which is aimed at reaching the vulnerable, rural poor people. Trace element delivery may be enhanced by nanotechnology. Development of functional foods deliver nutrients to cells only when needed is another area of interest. [18]


To ensure safe, integrated and responsible applications of nanotechnology, European Union has commissioned the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly-Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) to define, implement and enforce a legislative framework and to make an inventory to check if legislation already covers nanotechnologies. The Health Council of the Netherlands considered that: "the best course of action would be to modify existing laws and rules as and when developments within the fields of nanoscience and nanotechnologies render such measures necessary". Still the implementation of the legal framework is difficult because of gaps in scientific knowledge and fast-evolving market for products. Several regulations like The European General Food Regulation, Novel food Regulation, Food enrichments regulation, Food supplements directive and regulations and directives on pesticides and veterinary drugs have been proposed and are being implemented. [19]

World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are involved in the safety assessment of the potential health and environmental risks of nanoscale materials before they are introduced into food and other consumer products.

The current risk assessment approaches (hazard detection) used by FAO/WHO are suitable for nanomaterials used in food but more emphasis has to be laid on additional safety concerns which may arise due to the different characteristic properties of the materials. FAO/WHO should continue to review its risk assessment strategies to address the issues associated with the application of nanotechnologies to food. [19]

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should adopt the following measures to ensure proper use of nanotechnology in enhancing food and cosmetic products:

Understand the unique risks posed by nanomaterials

It is very important to recognize that nanoscale materials have different behavior when compared to its larger counterparts. FDA should restructure its approach to nanomaterials embracing this paradigm shift. It has been proved that increase in surface area increases toxicity and thus the positive and negative effects of nanoparticles should be uniquely determined before their use in consumer products. FDA should use the current knowledge of nanomaterials to detect the presence of nanoparticles in food and human body. FDA should approve products containing nanoparticles to be sold in the market only if they satisfy standardized protocols which are to be strictly regulated. [20]

Require comprehensive pre-market safety assessments:

Nanomaterials should be regulated as new chemical substances and should undergo safety tests and should be approved by the government before use. Pre-market safety testing should be made mandatory for nanomaterials used in food, cosmetics and dietary supplements. International organizations should put an effort to develop screening tools. FDA should also invest in the research of these nanomaterials to ensure that humans do not become subjects for the clinical trials of the manufacturers of these nanoengineered products. [20]

Require disclosure and transparency

Consumers are not aware of the presence of nanomaterials in consumer products due to the limited disclosure of information by their manufacturers. Transparency is essential to use nanomaterials in consumer goods to ensure that the basic consumer rights are not compromised. FDA should obligate the manufacturers to label the nanoengineered products and keep all stakeholders including consumers informed of their use beforehand. [20]

Develop regulations to manage risks

Adequacy of current legislative system on food safety and need for new legislation to deal with the safety aspects of nanotechnologies in food should be analyzed and guidelines should be adapted to new scientific findings. It would help both pre- marketing safety assessors as well as producers to correctly understand what is needed to convincingly determine the safety of products containing nanotechnologies.


Farming and food have been highly revolutionized by nanotechnology. There are several dozen food, beverage and cosmetic products on the market containing nanoparticles. Huge investments are made into projects by governments for developing nanotechnology in food and agriculture. Nanotechnology is applied in all aspects of the food chain to improve food safety and quality which may lead to unforeseen health risks.

To continue the ongoing applications of nanotechnology to foods, standardized protocols and guidelines are to be established and strictly implemented. Future release of cosmetics, sunscreens and personal care products that contain engineered nanomaterials should undergo standard testing procedures proving them to be safe for use, and withdraw nanoengineered products currently on the market which are expected to be harmful, until sufficient safety studies are completed and adequate regulations, notification and reporting schemes are put in place to protect the consumers using the products, the workers manufacturing these products and the environmental systems in which waste products will be released. [19]

By following pre-market safety assessment and standardized labeling of products containing nanoparticles, consumers could be given more information about the products so that they can make informed decision and thus, consumer acceptance of nanotechnology will increase, favoring the success of nanotechnology applications. The warning signs should make the government take precautionary approach on the usage of nanomaterials and invest more in the potential research of these nanoparticles.

It should be understood that not all nanomaterials will be dangerous because of their size, despite having different properties from their counter microscale products of the same composition. The observed effects would depend on the specific material, its surface, and the composition or formulation of the material in the final product. It cannot be generalized that all nanosized materials are harmful and thus a reliable, standardized, case-by-case approach to understand the characteristics of these materials is necessary. [21]

Every technology has its pros and cons- its all upto the scientists to make the best use of it that's beneficial and harmless to the public using the products, workers producing them and environment into which the wastes are disposed.