Macquarie University’s Professor Brian Gulson reported last week that isotope-labelled zinc from nano-sunscreens penetrates healthy adult skin and reaches the blood stream and urine of human test subjects. The study results undermine the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s claim that nano-sunscreens will stay on the outer layers of dead skin. FOEA repeats its calls for the national sunscreen regulator to close legal gaps that leave Australian nano-sunscreens untested, unlabelled and effectively unregulated.

In recent years scientists have found that nano-forms of UV blockers zinc oxide and titanium dioxide produce free radicals that can damage DNA and harm skin cells. Researchers from BlueScope Steel published a peer-reviewed study finding that nano-sunscreens cause 15 years’ worth of sun damage to pre-painted steel roofs in just 6 weeks. While nano-sunscreen will clearly behave differently on human skin than they do on roofs, the presence of extreme photocatalyts in sunscreens is a concern. If such nano-ingredients in sunscreen penetrate skin, it appears possible that they could accelerate sun damage to skin, perhaps increasing the risk of skin cancer.

Until now the Therapeutic Goods Administration has argued that there is no need for companies to do new safety testing on nano-ingredients, or to label them, as there is no evidence that nanomaterials could penetrate healthy adult skin. Friends of the earth has criticised the recklessness of this approach.

Professor Gulson’s study is preliminary and there is a need for further research – the researchers still don’t know whether the skin penetration is by ions or particles, and what health effect the skin penetration has. Nonetheless, these results show that penetration of zinc from nano-sunscreens does occur, contradicting the central claim made by the Therapeutic Goods to justify avoiding regulation of nano-sunscreens.

It is time for the TGA to close legal gaps that leave Australians at risk, and to ensure that all nano-ingredients face new safety assessment and labelling before they can be used in sunscreens.

Media coverage of the new study is below: