This post by Andrea Porcari was originally published at the RRI - PRISMA Blog (8 October 2018)
The application of nanomaterials in cosmetics has always been a matter of debate, raising some fundamental questions: what is the matter with using nano? Is there a real added value for people? Is it safe? What are the uncertainties for human health?
As a typical unnecessary good, consumer acceptance of a cosmetic product is strongly affected by both functional and non-functional features of the product. Nanomaterials could be used to improve the efficacy of the product, for example ensuring filtering of UV radiation or better shelf-life, as well as to enhance aesthetic properties, as for example the colour of a make-up.
Though consumers might welcome new features given by the use of nanotechnologies, this conflicts with risk perception of new technologies, which is always higher for products getting in close contact with the human body such as cosmetics.
Cosmetics are as well the first sector where specific requirements for nanomaterials have been introduced in regulation (Reg CE 1223/09), forcing industry to make a specific safety assessment and declare the use of nanosubstances in the product (labelling).
A perfect case for RRI, with conflicting stakeholder positions, not straightforward/ambiguous social benefits, and regulatory challenges has to be faced.
One of the RRI industrial pilots (Nanocube project) conducted within the Prisma project is addressing a very interesting case: the use of nanomaterials is combined with the development of a cosmetic product based on natural and organic ingredients.