In Australia’s first nanotechnology protest, Friends of the Earth Australia took its concerns about L’Oréal’s use of unsafe, untested nanoparticles to the catwalk of the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival. L’Oréal, the world’s biggest cosmetics company, is one of the top nanotechnology patent holders in the United States and the major sponsor of the fashion festival in Melbourne. FOEA campaigners held banners that read “Nano in cosmetics? Unsafe, unlabelled, unwanted!” and “Go nano-free L’Oréal, because we’re worth it”.

The campaigners were photographed by media and many of the fashion enthusiasts at the public runway event, and handed out hundreds of copies of our “Safe Sunscreen Guide”, that lists products manufactured by L’Oréal as “use nano”, to interested passers-by.

FOEA told interested members of the public that scientific research is increasingly demonstrating that nanoparticles commonly used in cosmetics and sunscreens could present serious new health and environmental risks.

Yet nanoparticles in cosmetics remain effectively unregulated. Companies can legally use most nanoparticles without having to do any safety testing on them, or labelling them.

Ironically, one of the recipients of L’Oréal’s 2008 Women in Science
Fellowships, Dr Amanda Barnard who now works with the CSIRO, has just published a study showing that the majority of titanium dioxide nanoparticles used in sunscreens and cosmetics produce dangerous free radicals that could damage DNA and harm cells (see media reports here and here).

For over five years Friends of the Earth Australia has called for a halt to sales of nano-products until legal gaps are closed, and regulations are introduced to ensure safety and public choice.

Today FOEA campaigners warned that there is increasing unhappiness about the government’s failure to manage nanotechnology in the public interest. Without action soon it seems likely that protests such as this will become more frequent. It is also likely that the nano-industry will face an erosion of public confidence.

L’Oréal has gotten a huge amount of positive publicity out of this week’s fashion festival. It’s time for it and other nano-companies to be held to account for the industry’s poor record on safety and public transparency.

Photos from our protest below.

Media coverage of our protest available at: