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Are silver nanoparticles–widely used in athletic clothing and sunscreens–safe?

A study by Kovvuru et al, published in the journal Nanotoxicology, found that oral ingestion of silver nanoparticles induces permanent genome alterations and may therefore cause cancer.

Nanoparticles are a wide class of materials that include particulate substances, which have one dimension less than 100 nm.

Silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) are widely used in consumer and medical products. Nanoparticles are now being used in the manufacture of scratchproof eyeglasses, crack- resistant paints, anti-graffiti coatings for walls, transparent sunscreens, stain-repellent fabrics, self-cleaning windows and ceramic coatings for solar cells.

Silver nanoparticles cause more damage to testicular cells than titanium dioxide nanoparticles, according to a recent study by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. However, the use of both types may affect testicular cells with possible consequences for fertility. See here for a report on this study.

See here for a study demonstrating the potential detrimental effects of silver nanoparticles on neuronal development and physiological functions and warning against its prolific usage.

See here for a study finding that nanoparticles can transfer extensively across the placental barrier

From the Environmental Working Group:   “Nanosilver consists of manufactured, nanometer-scale particles of silver. According to research studies, these particles can be toxic to cells that develop into eggs or sperm in mammals. Recent studies also suggest that nanoparticles may penetrate the skin, cross cell membranes to reach the interior of cells, enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier and may be toxic when inhaled, especially to people with respiratory diseases such as asthma.

“Many companies infuse athletic clothing with antimicrobial coatings, advertising them as effective in reducing odor. Nanosilver can kill bacteria on contact, but washing clothes regularly works just as well.”