Nanoparticles are tiny particles that have different characteristics to larger particles of the same thing. Scientists are currently discovering the characteristics of a range of nanoparticles, and new products are being developed to make use of them. However, some scientists are also concerned that we do not know enough about the long-term effects of widespread use of nanoparticles.
Nanoparticles exist in nature at a low level, but they are being manufactured in large quantities. When they are used in personal care products, a significant amount can end up being released to the environment – in waterways or soil.
We do not know much about what nanoparticles do when they get into the environment. Studies have shown a number of differences compared to larger particles. For example, compared to the equivalent larger particles, some nanoparticles are more likely to be bioaccumulated in some animals. Lots of work is currently taking place to build a better understanding of the effects of nanoparticles, and how they can be regulated.