Is it nano when the label says it is?

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Many companies promote their products as “nano” because nanotechnology is in vogue today: Software companies, for instance, offer “nanotools”, i.e. small additional programs that adapt existing software to the special needs of computer users. Tata “Nano” is a very small car manufactured by the Indian vehicle manufacturer Tata Motors. Car washs praise their “nano” polishes which contain finest substances for extra-brilliant finishes.

For all that, nanomaterials are not always used or contained in the respective products. Only cosmetics, food and biocides are obliged to label nanomaterials. In the list of ingredients, “(nano)” then appears behind the name of the respective substance. The conditions under which manufacturers may voluntarily advertise with “nano”, however, are not regulated.

A “nano-notice” on the display side of packaging or in advertising may primarily be there to attract attention. Nevertheless, it can certainly be true. Industry and research have been doing experiments with very small structures for many years without necessarily having systematically developed them as “nanomaterials” in the sense of legal definitions. For example, nano-polishes for cars work by forming nano-fine surface structures after application. Micelles and liposomes, which encapsulate active ingredients in cosmetics and dietary supplements and keep them soluble, are also nano-small, but are produced solely by the chemical properties of their building blocks. And for many years titanium dioxide has been used as a finely ground inorganic (also called mineral) sunscreen, before it became subject to labelling.

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