ABC TV’s 7.30 program tonight will reveal Friends of the Earth’s findings of false non-nano claims made by many Australian sunscreen companies. Some of Australia’s biggest sunscreen brands are affected – including sunscreen products such as Cancer Council Classic, Invisible Zinc Junior and Body sunscreens and Woolworths Clear Zinc. One company Mukti has recalled its affected product in response to the revelations.
The products all contain ZinClear IM, manufactured by Australian sunscreen ingredient manufacturer Antaria. Friends of the Earth has launched an ACCC complaint accusing the company of misleading and deceptive conduct for marketing this ingredient as “non nano”, despite it being a nanomaterial. A range of other organisations have backed the complaint, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Australian Education Union and the Community and Public Services Union.
Dr Gregory Crocetti from Friends of the Earth’s Nanotechnology Project says “Consumers are understandably concerned about the potential health risks of untested nano-ingredients in sunscreens. This is why many companies have chosen to market their sunscreens as nano-free. This scandal creates a crisis in consumer confidence – with even Australia’s most trusted brands such as the Cancer Council not knowing what is in their products.”
Research by the National Measurement Institute (NMI) released earlier this year showed that a number of Australian sunscreen products that used ZinClear IM contained nanomaterials. Importantly, the independent tests by NMI were much more rigorous than the laser light scattering measuring techniques used by companies including Antaria—which do not differentiate between bulk particles and clumps of nanoparticles (acknowledged as nanomaterials under both Australian and international definitions). Closer investigation of product information and patents by NMI for Friends of the Earth has now substantiated these results.*
“Alarmingly little research has been conducted into the health risks associated with nano-ingredients in sunscreen. However there are growing health concerns among scientists and skin specialists, including
fears that nano-ingredients in sunscreens could lead to cancer,” Dr Crocetti says.
“Dermatologists and toxicologists have made public warnings that people with damaged skin, young children, and people who use sunscreens very regularly are at greater risk of exposure to nanomaterials and should avoid using nano-sunscreens. It is deeply concerning that people trying to avoid nano-ingredients have been misled in this way.
“It is fantastic that Mukti has taken proactive action to protect consumers by recalling its affected product.
“If this scandal causes greater public concern around the safety of sunscreens, it is due to the Federal Government’s failure to regulate the use of nano-ingredients in sunscreen. If the Government had made the testing and labelling of nano-ingredients compulsory for companies we would never be in this mess.
“Europe and New Zealand are moving towards the regulation of nano-ingredients in sunscreens and Australia should do the same,” Dr Crocetti concludes.
* Friends of the Earth commissioned an expert opinion from the National Measurement Institute (NMI), which concludes: It is the opinion of the National Measurement Institute (NMI) that the “mesoporous zinc oxide powder” described in Patent US 2010/0310871 A1 is a “nanomaterial” according to International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) technical specifications and an “industrial nanomaterial” as defined in the Australian Government National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (“NICNAS”) document “Guidance on new chemical requirements for Notification of Industrial Nanomaterials.”
** Perth-based manufacturer Antaria Limited has repeatedly made claims that ZinClear-IM is not a nanomaterial—including words such as “not a nano-material” and “micron sized (non-nano)”–to its customers and the Australian stockmarket.
NOTES TO EDITORS: Research from the National Measurement Institute has revealed 4 sunscreen brands listed as “nano-free” in Friends of the Earth’s Safe Sunscreen Guide actually contain nano-ingredients. The only product tested that turned out to be nano-free is Banana Boat (Sports). We now know many of the brands listed as non-nano contain nano-ingredients but to determine which are nano-free would require further costly testing.
European regulation of sunscreens will come into effect in July 2013, requiring mandatory nano-specific risk assessments and labelling of nano-ingredients. New Zealand will require labelling on nano-ingredients in sunscreens from 2015.
The Australian chemicals regulator National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) has indicated it intends to start implementing nano-specific regulation of active ingredients in cosmetic (secondary) sunscreens, such as moisturisers or lip balms with an SPF rating. This will create the situation where secondary sunscreens are regulated by NICNAS, while the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) continues to do nothing to ensure the safety of primary sunscreens, which it is responsible for overseeing.
A survey by The Australia Institute last year found that 92% of Australians believe sunscreen manufacturers should be required to conduct safety testing on nano-ingredients before using them in products and 85% want nano-ingredients in sunscreen to be labelled.