Friends of the 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 taken the pro-active step of recalling its affected product in response to the revelations. For more detailed info view our Q&A.

The scandal creates a crisis in consumer confidence, with the responsibility falling firmly in the lap of the Government. If our sunscreen regulator – the Therapeutic Goods Administration had properly regulated and labelled nano-ingredients in sunscreen we would never be in this mess.

Slippery product information

There are growing concerns around the health risks of using nano-ingredients in sunscreen. Alarmingly little research has been conducted into the potential health risks. However, from the research that has been performed, we know that some nano-ingredients produce dangerous free radicals that if absorbed into skin, could damage DNA. The  head of CSIRO’s Nanosafety division has warned that in a worst-case scenario, nano-ingredients in sunscreens could increase the risk of skin cancer.

Despite growing concern about nano-ingredients in sunscreen, they aren’t labelled. To support informed choice, Friends of the Earth has produced the Safe Sunscreen Guide every year for the last few years, listing the nano-content of sunscreen products based on surveys of sunscreen manufacturers. Unfortunately, it now appears that some of Australia’s leading sunscreen brands had incorrect information about the nano-content of the products they sell.

Sloppy claims

Antaria Limited sells active ingredients for sunscreens, while Ross Cosmetics manufactures sunscreens that it sells to retail sunscreen brands.

Both companies marketed their products to sunscreen brands as ‘nano-free’ or ‘non-nano’ on the basis of definitions created by each company – not those that have been developed internationally through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the European Union, or Australia’s chemicals regulator NICNAS.

At least 13 sunscreen brands were misled by these companies. This means that tens of thousands of Australians have been buying nano-sunscreens for years, while believing otherwise.

A Slap in the face for the Government

This scandal would never have happened if Australia regulated the use of nano-ingredients in sunscreens and ensured accurate labelling. Europe will require the safety testing and labelling of nano-ingredients in sunscreens from 2013. However, Australia’s regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, continues to reject calls for labelling.