The Science of Nails

A Nano-Filled Future

Nanotechnology is one of the fastest-growing industries on the planet, with research going into its use in electronics, energy, construction, and even into cosmetics.

Imagine plugging your cell phone into your clothing and charging it with the energy your clothes have accumulated as you’ve walked throughout the day. Or looking through a window lined with invisible nano particles that make it impossible for dirt and water molecules to adhere, so the window never needs to be washed. Or even imagine a medical treatment in which man-made nano particles are designed to only enter cancer cells, and when a laser is activated the particles heat up to destroy their host cancer cells.

These are some of the thoughts being floated by today’s leading scientists as they guess how nanotechnology will revolutionize our lives. But what is nanotechnology, and how does it apply to the salon and nail tech?

Nanotechnology is defined as the study and control of matter that is sized from one to 100 nanometers. A nanometer then, is equal to one billionth of a standard meter, which equates to being about 100,000th the width of a human hair. So nanotechnology is dealing with very small materials. But these small particles are nothing new. In fact, humans have been creating them for centuries, but it’s only recently that we’ve been able to study them and understand their unique functions.

Many stained-glass windows from the Middle Ages have nano-sized particles that help add to the shimmering effect and color vibrancy we see, and ancient samurai swords have been found to have nano particles as well. These both were an unknown by-product from manufacturers at the time, but with recent advancements in imaging microscopes, we can now identify these particles and begin to study their usefulness.


In the cosmetic industry, the most obvious application for nanotechnology has been in sunscreen. Titanium dioxide is an ingredient that absorbs UV light and protects skin, but it leaves a visible color on the wearer’s skin. So titanium dioxide is manufactured to be small enough to become invisible on the skin, but still large enough to reflect and absorb the harmful UV rays.

Nano-sized particles are also used in hydrating lotions, where soy-based nanospheres are filled with vitamins and hydrating emollients to be delivered deeper into the skin. There is still much research to be done on nanotechnology. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has started a Nanotechnology Task Force to research the effects of using nano particles in food, medicine, and cosmetics, and the European Union (EU) is undertaking similar actions.

Scientific consultant Doug Schoon of Schoon Scientific explains some of the concerns regarding nanotechnology use: “The most common concern with nanotechnology is what effects these nano particles can have inside our bodies over the long term.” There is speculation that nano particles can enter the bloodstream and collect in organs or other areas in the body.

The FDA’s task force has not come out with any conclusive evidence to say this can happen, but they also haven’t said that it can’t — they are still in the information-gathering stage.

“We’re in the very beginning phase of nano marketing,” says Schoon, “especially in the beauty industry. But as the science comes out on the safety and usefulness of nano particles, I think we’ll be seeing more and more companies begin to use them.”

As of now, there are not many companies using nano particles in lotions, gels, or acrylics. The cost of using nano particles is still a bit prohibitive, and many are waiting for definitive results and statements from organizations like the FDA and EU.

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