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Nanomaterials wield the promise of amazing technological advancements, yet we know precious little about its effects on the human body. In response to mounting concerns over the ubiquity of nanoparticles, which can be found in everything from food supplements to sunscreen, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has called for further studies to determine potential risks. The burden of proving safety, however, will fall on the food companies and cosmetics manufacturers that seek to employ them, according to a pair of draft guidelines released on Friday.

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Although makers of most food additives can simply declare that their ingredients are “generally recognized as safe” in order to legally sell them, the new guidelines do not include nanotechnology in the same category. In other words, companies would have to provide additional safety data before the products can be approved.

Nanoparticles are roughly 40, 000 times smaller than the width of an average human hair.

Nanoscopic versions of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, roughly 40, 000 times smaller than the width of an average human hair, may be used in lotions and creams that glide on more smoothly or makeup that doesn’t cake or streak. But experts such as the National Academies of Science warn that such mite-size materials can also penetrate the skin or leach into the environment.

The draft guidelines, says FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg in a statement, are meant to be a starting point for the nanotechnology discussion. They don’t cover nanotechnology in textiles, however—those fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Our goal is to regulate these products using the best possible science,” Hamburg says. “Understanding nanotechnology remains a top priority within the agency’s regulatory science initiative and, in doing so, we will be prepared to usher science, public health, and FDA into a new, more innovative era.”

The FDA will accept comments from the public on both documents for the next 90 days.

+ U.S. Food and Drug Administration

[Via Reuters]