Brief list of the major nanomaterials in your daily products.
Nanoparticles have existed throughout the history of the world and can even be produced by some organisms. However, intentionally manmade nanoparticles, also called engineered nanoparticles, are somehow new. Nanotechnology is a field of research that has quickly and greatly developed in the last decades, and the global market is already incorporating this technology into a wide variety of products. Despite that, most of the consumers are not really aware of this and think about nanotechnology as science fiction.
Some of us look positively at nanotechnology and see a future for it, whereas other people appear worried and sceptical. Whatever our opinion on nanotechnology may be, what we don’t realise is that we are exposed to nanoparticles in our everyday life, not only through pollution, but by means of the products we use daily. So, here’s a short list of some of these hidden engineered nanoparticles.
Titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2) have two major commercially interesting properties: they can absorb UV light and they can destroy organic compounds by interacting with the light. Therefore TiO2 nanoparticles are mainly used in cosmetics, in particular as UV filters in sunscreens, and in outdoor painting, as cleaning agents and against organic pollutants.
The main mechanism involved in titanium dioxide- based paintings, the disintegration of organic material, is the major disadvantage of titanium dioxide as UV filter: in fact, TiO2 can have the same disintegrating effect on our skin. In order to avoid this, the particles are generally coated by other nanomaterials that are inert, such as alumina or silicon dioxide.
Alternatively to titanium dioxide nanoparticles in sun care products, it is possible to use zinc oxide nanoparticles, which substantially work in the same way.
Silver nanoparticles are powerful antimicrobial agents and are therefore used in a wide variety of products: from cleaning agents and paints, to cosmetics and textiles. The first cleaning product using silver nanoparticles was brought on the market in 1952 under the name of Algaedyn. Nanosilver is exceptionally effective against bacteria, fungi, viruses and certain insects; at the same time the toxicity to humans and mammals is extremely low.
Bandages, swimming pool cleaning products and probably even your socks contain some nanosilver. Or at least, they did, before they were washed hundred times…
Silica dioxide (SiO2) nanoparticles are used in food as additives. Are you going to the fridge to check for the ingredients of your food? Then you will find SiO2 particles under the name E551. E551 is used as anti- caking (non-stick) agent and acidity regulator. From now on your food will have a different taste…
Electronics and sporting equipments
The name “carbon nanotubes” derives from the peculiar shape of these materials, where carbon atoms are arranged to form a tube. These nanomaterials have two main applications: electronics and composite materials (plastics and sporting equipment).
Some carbon nanotubes may be quite dangerous if dispersed in the environment, as their mechanisms of action resemble the ones of asbestos. You are however not really likely to stumble upon these free particles, thus the risk is minimal.
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nanotechnology, nanoparticles, sunscreen, food, Antimicrobial agents_