Boy sunscreen 484Friends of the Earth is campaigning for the labelling and safety testing of nano-ingredients in sunscreen and cosmetics. There are growing concerns around the health and environmental risks of using nano-ingredients in sunscreen and cosmetics. From the research that has been performed, we know that surface area plays a key role in the toxicity of nanomaterials. As we reduce the size of particles, the larger relative surface area increases the potential for free radical production which can damage proteins and DNA. Accordingly, the leader of CSIRO’s Nanosafety group has warned that in a worst-case scenario, nano-ingredients in sunscreens could cause skin cancer. Dermatologists have also called for labelling so that people can choose nano-free sunscreens.

In previous years Friends of the Earth has produced a Safe Sunscreen Guide to provide information for people wanting to choose non nano sunscreen. However, we had to recall this guide after it was revealed that the sunscreen ingredient manufacturers Antaria and Ross Cosmetics were marketing nano sunscreen ingredients as non-nano. In September 2012, Friends of the Earth commissioned the testing of several Australia sunscreens, which we hoped were free from nano-ingredients, by the Government’s National Measurement Institute. Sadly, all the tested sunscreen products were found to contain a high proportion of nanoparticles. Therefore, we are in the difficult situation of not being able to recommend any non-nano sunscreen products at the moment.

This is not to say we believe all zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based sunscreens are using nano-ingredients. Unfortunately many sunscreen products that don’t use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead rely on endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as 4-methylbenzylidene camphor and octyl methoxycinnamate which we would not recommend using either.

Be Sun Smart

Given the uncertainty over what to slop on your skin, we strongly advise people to closely follow the SunSmart guidelines:

  • Slip on sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possib
  • Slop on SPF30+ sunscreen – make sure it is broad spectrum and water resistant.
  • Slap on a hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears
  • Seek shade
  • Slide on sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian Standards.

Friends of the Earth will continue to research potential options and are hopeful that we will have some brands that we can recommend in the near future.