Friends of Earth has launched ACCC complaints accusing two Australian companies – Antaria Limited and Ross Cosmetics of misleading and deceptive conduct for marketing nano sunscreen ingredients as ‘non-nano’ and ‘nanoparticle-free’. Some of Australia’s biggest sunscreen brands are affected, including products such as Cancer Council ‘Classic’, Invisible Zinc ‘Junior’ and ‘Body’ sunscreens, Coles ‘Sports’ and Woolworths ‘Clear Zinc’. The complaint against Antaria is being supported by range of groups including the Public Health Association, the Australian Education Union and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. One company Mukti has recalled its affected product in response to the revelations.

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 brand – the Cancer Council – not knowing what is in their products.”

Mary Bluett, President of the Australian Education Union (Victorian Branch) says “There is growing evidence and there are growing concerns that nano-ingredients used in sunscreens present new health and safety challenges. Based on these concerns, AEU recommended that schools and workplaces use only nano-free sunscreens. It is deeply disturbing that companies have misrepresented the contents of their products in this way.”

Michael Moore, Chief Executive Officer of the Public Health Association of Australia says “There is increasing evidence that nanotechnology potentially poses significant health, safety and environmental hazards. The Federal Government urgently needs to develop a regulatory framework to address health and safety concerns and provide informed choice.”

Research by the National Measurement Institute (NMI) released earlier this year showed that a number of Australian sunscreen products that used ingredients supplied by Antaria and Ross contained nanomaterials. Importantly, the independent tests by NMI were much more rigorous than the laser light scattering measuring techniques used by the companies — which do not differentiate between bulk particles and agglomerates and aggregates (clumps) of nanoparticles (described as nanomaterials under both Australian and international definitions). Closer investigation of product information and patents by 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 done the right thing 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.