Consumers kept in the shade on sun protection

CHOICE wants more "screening" of nano ingredients

Consumer group CHOICE has called for the labelling of "nano" ingredients on sunscreens after testing of a range of top-selling brands found the presence of "nanoparticles" in several products.

The possible health effects of nanoparticles – particles smaller than 100 billionths of a metre – are unclear, but some scientists have warned that absorption through the skin or hair could cause cell damage.

Sunscreen manufacturers say the use of nano-grade titanium dioxide and zinc oxide improves sun protection by reflecting UV radiation and prevents a white film from forming on the skin's surface.

CHOICE tested 12 SPF 30+ sunscreens and found nanoparticles in eight, although only one sample of L'Oreal UV Perfect contained a significant amount.

"The jury is out on whether nanoparticles found in sunscreens can penetrate the skin and make their way to living cells, but we say these ingredients should be proven safe before they come on to the market," says CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn.

"In the meantime, nanoparticles should be labelled on products so consumers can avoid them if they're concerned."

Of the four nano-free products tested, Cancer Council Classic Sunscreen is particularly recommended because it doesn't contain "chemical absorbers" which have their own endocrine-disrupting concerns.

Nivea Sun Moisturising Sunscreen Lotion, Hamilton Everyday Face Sunscreen Lotion and Banana Boat Sensitive Sunscreen were also free of nano-size particles.

After conducting two major research reviews, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has concluded there is evidence zinc oxide and titanium may damage cells, although it's questionable whether nanoparticles can penetrate the outer "dead" layer of skin into underlying live tissue.

"That's why we need more research in this area. When it comes to sun protection, 'slip, slop and slap' is still good advice but we need to be sure that with nano ingredients, the 'slopping' doesn't do more harm than good," says Zinn.

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