Accusations in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Canberra Times and other outlets that “lives may be lost” due to Friends of the Earth’s nano sunscreen campaign are defamatory and a classic case of shoot the messenger.

Our organisation has always advised people to use SPF 30+ sunscreen. The focus of our campaign has been a call for the labelling and safety testing of nano-ingredients used in sunscreen.

The article attacks Friends of the Earth based on a survey it claims was “made public in February”. Yet the survey was actually released in February 2012. More importantly, its methodology and interpretation of results have been criticised by an experimental design expert at Swinburne University.

The article falsely implies that 87% of survey respondents who had heard about nanotechnology sunscreen risks would now avoid using sunscreen. This misrepresents the survey questions asked and the responses given.

The survey in fact found that regardless of concern about nanoparticles, the overwhelming majority of people were likely to continue using sunscreen.

The article quotes Rade Dudurovic from Antaria who states “We sell a product that is safe and it’s nano.” There is no published evidence to support Mr Dudurovic’s assertion. Lack of evidence of harm in the absence of data is not evidence of safety. Notably, Antaria had consistently argued this product was non-nano until it back-flipped in December last year, admitting to the ASX that although Antaria’s ZinClear IM product had been promoted for years as a non-nano formulation, it is in fact based on nanomaterials.

Concerns about the use of nano-ingredients in sunscreen have been raised by scientists, unions, consumer organisations and public health advocates globally. There is evidence that nanoparticles can penetrate skin and evidence that they can damage DNA and protein. Accordingly, the leader of CSIRO’s Nanosafety group warned in 2008 that in a worst-case scenario, nano-ingredients in sunscreens could cause skin cancer.

Regulators in Europe have responded to concerns about nanotechnology risks by requiring the labelling and safety testing of nano-ingredients in European sunscreen and cosmetics from July this year. Australians deserve the same level of safety and choice.