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Bath scientists say effects of beauty cream only skin deep

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: October 03, 2012

Academics at the University of Bath are unconvinced by cosmetic claims

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Firms selling skin creams, cosmetic products and suntan lotions that claim they are able to transport their active ingredients deep into the skin using ‘nanoparticles’ don’t actually work, according to a new study by West scientists.

The research, by scientists at the University of Bath, challenges the claims that are the current popular trend in TV adverts for everything from cream that claims to ‘lift’ the face’s features to sun lotion that claims it can protect deeper layers of the skin.

The adverts and products claim they contain nanoparticles, which are tiny particles less than one-hundredth of the thickness of a human hair, which can penetrate the skin’s outer layers and take with them the ‘active ingredients’ the cream or lotion contains.

But the Bath scientists found this was not true – nanoparticles did not penetrate the skin’s surface, even if you strip away the top layers of skin using sticky tape before you put the cream on.

Diplomatically, the researchers said their findings had ‘implications’ for pharmaceutical researchers and cosmetic companies that design skin creams ‘with nanoparticles that are supposed to transport ingredients to the deeper layers of the skin’.

But the researchers did say that their findings should reassure people worried about the potentially harmful nanoparticles in things like suncream, which had been a source of safety concerns.

Prof Richard Guy, from Bath’s department of pharmacy and pharmacology, led the study, which laser scanned fluorescently tagged polystyrene beads, which ranged in size from 20 to 200 nanometres.

The beads were so small, you would need 500,000 of the smallest ones to fill a centimetre wide space.

And Prof Guy found that even the smallest did not get anywhere near penetrating the skin; even when the skin sample had its outer layers stripped with adhesive tape, these nanoparticles did not penetrate it.

“Previous studies have reached conflicting conclusions over whether nanoparticles can penetrate the skin or not,” he said.

“Using confocal microscopy has allowed us to unambiguously visualise and objectively assess what happens to nanoparticles on an uneven skin surface.

“Whereas earlier work has suggested that nanoparticles appear to penetrate the skin, our results indicate that they may in fact have simply been deposited into a deep crease within the skin sample.

“The skin’s role is to act as a barrier to potentially dangerous chemicals and to reduce water loss from the body. Our study shows that it is doing a good job of this.

“So, while an unsuspecting consumer may draw the conclusion that nanoparticles in their skin creams, are ‘carrying’ an active ingredient deep into the skin, our research shows this is patently not the case.”

The results of the work, published in the Journal of Controlled Release, suggest that it might be possible to design a new type of nanoparticle-based drug formulation that can be applied to the skin and give controlled release of a drug over a long period of time.

This would enable sustained delivery of the active drug, potentially reducing the frequency with which the patient would have to apply the formulation to the skin.

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  • a1rhellair  |  October 04 2012, 11:23AM

    I wonder how much money was spent on this research, to tell us what most of us already thought...." Indeed. Don't forget though that there's intense pressure to produce more research that 'has impact.' Consequently, you will get bids for funding research that reiterates the bleeding obvious. That's one of the ways a university becomes a 'top 3' one. Personally, I don't mind getting old. It increases responsibility to lead a healthy and active life; that can only be good. Also, I remember queen victoria as a young girl.... ;-)

  • Viscount_V  |  October 03 2012, 10:41PM

    ****!!!! That explains it!

  • MoeXXX  |  October 03 2012, 10:11PM

    No **** Sherlock. I wonder how much research money is being wasted tackling false advertising when it could be researching cancer cures or something?

  • DaveBathwick  |  October 03 2012, 5:36PM

    Sad but people do believe what the adverts say and spend an obscene amount of money trying to avoid/delay a natural process. Get real girls (and boys!) you're all gonna die and if you are lucky enough to live a long life you'll be looking like a wrinkled prune. Whatever next- fast food makes you fat?

  • MajorFlack  |  October 03 2012, 5:14PM

    You'd have thought so, GoodReader. After all the benchmarks of the Advertising Standards Authority are that sales messages should be "legal, decent, honest and truthful." Therefore, if the cosmetics industry are selling porkies, to vain and unsuspecting customers, then they're not the only ones who might leave themselves open to litigation on the basis of University of Bath findings.

  • GoodReader  |  October 03 2012, 4:27PM

    Surely nobody actually believes what the adverts say? I wonder how much money was spent on this research, to tell us what most of us already thought. It will be interesting to see what the cosmetic companies will claim as the next justification for very expensive creams.