New testing from the National Measurement Institute (NMI) has revealed that many Australian sunscreen and cosmetic products still contain anatase titanium dioxide, despite years of warnings of its extreme potential to generate free radicals – which could damage DNA and protein.

The Friends of the Earth commissioned testing found the chemical in six of the eight products examined. The sunscreen and cosmetic products affected include Nivea ‘Kids Swim and Play’, Coco Island ‘White Zinc’, Key Sun ‘White Zinke’, L’Oreal infallible ‘Advanced Never Fail Makeup’, Covergirl natureluxe ‘liquid silk foundation’ and Australis ‘Powder Cream’ Make-up.

Scientists have warned that anatase titanium dioxide is “capable of destroying virtually any organic matter”  and questioned its use in sunscreens.

The product we are most concerned about is Nivea Sun ‘Kids Swim and Play’ sunscreen, since independent analysis of the test results by Uniquest found that more than 90 % of the particles extracted from the product were nanoparticles.  Due to their large relative surface area, nanoparticles of anatase titanium dioxide are much more reactive than larger particles of the chemical.

Five of the other products tested were found to contain anatase titanium dioxide, but it was not possible to determine whether this was in nanoparticle form, since the products contained a mixture of different metal oxides.

In 2008, it was revealed that nanoparticles of anatase titanium dioxide in sunscreen were reacting with sunlight to produce free radicals which were breaking down the coating of Colorbond roofs in a matter of weeks. Researchers found that the nanoparticles increased the rate of sun damage by 100 times. This discovery raised serious concerns about the potential impact on our skin – and some Australian sunscreen brands have reformulated to avoid using anatase titanium dioxide. Despite these concerns, the Federal Government has taken no action to remove these ingredients from sunscreen.

Based on a literature review it conducted in 2009, Australia’s sunscreen regulator – the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) – has repeatedly insisted that there is no evidence that nanoparticles can penetrate the skin – so no regulation is needed.

We are concerned that the TGA has not kept up to date with science. An increasing number of studies suggest that nanoparticles can penetrate the skin and FoE believes this evidence warrants a precautionary approach.

Friends of the Earth is calling for an immediate ban on the use of anatase titanium doxide in sunscreen and for the safety testing and labelling of other nano-ingredients in sunscreen. Europe will require the safety testing and labelling of all nano-ingredients in sunscreens from July this year. Surely Australians deserve the same protection as Europeans?