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Graphic of Nanotube

‘Nanomaterials’ generally refers to materials containing a significant proportion of particles with at least one dimension between 1-100 nm (a nanometre is one-billionth of a metre), which is about a thousandth of the width of human hair. Nanoscale materials can include nanoparticles, nanotubes and nanofilms. However, the regulatory definition is still being debated.

The unique properties of engineered nanomaterials are beneficial to a range of industries; their applications are wide ranging and increasing, with over 1,800 known products already on the market containing engineered nanomaterials. 

Key points in this POSTnote include:

  • Nanomaterial uses and benefits are diverse and increasing, such as in cosmetics, textiles, electronics and medicine.
  • Current regulatory frameworks applicable to nanomaterials within the UK are mainly set at EU level.
  • There are some indications of potential health and environmental risks, but conclusions are limited by insufficient long-term evidence and difficulties in translating results from the laboratory to the real world.
  • Post-Brexit, the UK will need to establish regulatory frameworks for nanomaterials.
  • The wide range of forms and uses of nanomaterials present many regulatory challenges, such as ensuring consistency in testing and finding valid ways of grouping nanomaterials so that their risks may be assessed more efficiently.


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Dr Mark Miller, University of Edinburgh*
  • Dr Rodger Duffin, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Craig Poland, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Jen Raftis, University of Edinburgh
  • Professor Iseult Lynch, University of Birmingham*
  • Professor Eva Valsami-Jones, University of Birmingham*
  • Professor Tamara Galloway, University of Exeter*
  • Professor Vicki Stone, Heriot-Watt University
  • Professor Teresa Fernandes, Heriot-Watt University*
  • Professor Terry Tetley, Imperial College London*
  • Dr Andrew Thorley, Imperial College London
  • Professor Milo Shaffer, London Centre for Nanotechnology, Imperial College London*
  • Professor Alex Porter, Imperial College London
  • Professor Martie van Tongeren, University of Manchester
  • Professor Paul Bardos, r3 Environment Technology Ltd*
  • Professor Paul Nathanail, University of Nottingham / Land Quality Management Ltd*
  • Susanne Baker, techUK
  • Dr Roger Pullin, Chemical Industries Association*
  • Silvia Segna, Chemical Industries Association
  • Helen Munday, Food and Drink Federation
  • Keneth Chinyama, Food and Drink Federation*
  • Alex Price, British Standards Institute*
  • Julie Bygraves, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)*
  • Dr Penny Carmichael, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Dr Gareth Evans, Health and Safety Executive Laboratory
  • Dr Delphine Bard, Health and Safety Executive Laboratory
  • Ruth Willis, Food Standards Agency*
  • David Jefferies, Food Standards Agency
  • Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee (HSAC)*

*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

Documents to download

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