Nanomaterials are very small scale chemicals. Their structures range from approximately 1 to 100 nanometers in at least one dimension. This means that you could fit between 8 000 and 800 000 nanoparticles in a row in the full stop at the end of this sentence.
Some nanomaterials are naturally occurring, like smoke, soot, dust or sand. Others have been in use for a long time: carbon black and silica have been used since the late 19th century. Other manufactured nanomaterials are specially designed for their size and properties. They have unique and more pronounced characteristics compared to the same material in its more usual, regular sized form. The physico-chemical and (eco)toxical properties of nanomaterials may therefore differ from those of the bulk substance or particles of a larger size. Because of their specificities, nanomaterials offer technical and commercial opportunities, but may pose risks to the environment and raise health and safety concerns for humans and animals.
Nanotechnology is a rapidly expanding field. More and more manufactured nanomaterials are being made. They are being included in products already on the European market, for example batteries, coatings, anti-bacterial clothing, cosmetics and food products.
Nanomaterials are used to produce lightweight, strong materials for applications such as automotive parts and sporting equipment. Nano-enabled coatings make surface materials more durable or stain-resistant, for example in textile applications. Many high-performance electronic devices rely on nano-enabled computing power. Nanomaterials are also used in medical applications and cosmetics. Examples of nanomaterials in consumer or industrial applications include e.g. synthetic amorphous silica, silicates, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, aluminium oxide, iron oxides, calcium carbonate, gold, silver and carbon black. Many pigments and fillers that have been produced and used for a long time in large volumes are nanomaterials according to the EU recommendation for a definition.
Nanomaterials are included in the scope of REACH and information on their impact on human health and the environment must be provided. As for any chemicals, some may be toxic and some may not. Their toxicity depends on various properties of the nanomaterial. Product-specific legislation like the Biocidal Product legislation or Cosmetics legislation also take into account the need for information on nanomaterials.