The wonders of beauty science to make our skins look younger, smoother, more translucent to penetrate more deeply into the cells but the very technology that achieves these marvels could actually be dangerous for our health.
"There is a possibility they may be able to cause cancer to those cells." Said Dr Robert Salmon
70% of sunscreens on the market, 300 lotions and creams, contain these tiny microscopic metallic ingredients finely ground aluminium, zinc, titanium and silica. They're called nano particles - 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Many make-up products also contain nano-particles. But leading scientists and health groups warn of serious safety risks.
"The smaller we make these particles, the more likelihood there is it will penetrate our skin where they can do further damage." Said Gregory Concetti, from Friends of the Earth
Sunscreens are very effective in protecting you from the sun, but the cruel irony is, products with nano-ingredients could actually increase the risk of skin cancer, and may even lead to birth defects
"With nano particles, rather than reflecting the ultraviolet light, they actually absorb it and from absorbing that ultraviolet light, they produce free radicals on the surface of the nano particle. These free radicals are extremely reactive compounds that can, were they to be active around strands of genetic material, cause mutations within that genetic material by which skin cancer could be produced." Dr Robert Salmon
Dermatologist, Dr Robert Salmon, says the worry is, nano particles are SO minute it's very difficult to study the effects. "The whole question here is whether these nano particles do penetrate to the level of live cells, some of the studies suggest that they may penetrate to the level of live cells under certain circumstances whereas other studies contradict those studies." He said
Dr. Gregory Crocetti explains "There has been very little research into nano sunscreens using human subjects but early research has shown that zinc from zinc oxide nano formulation was able to penetrate through human skin and turned up in their blood and their urine."
Studies have shown nanoparticles cause inflammation of mice lungs and can cross the placenta of pregnant mice, causing behaviour changes.
"The main reason companies use nano particles in their sunscreens is for that transparency effect so it rubs on clearer and possibly feels a little less greasy
If we compare the use of a nano and a non-nano sunscreen, we find very little difference. I'll show you. Here's some nano sunscreen and you see it rub pretty transparently into my skin and if I use a nano free sunscreen." He said
Certain people are more at risk wearing nano-sunscreens.
"Anyone that has a decreased barrier function in the skin - nano particles penetrate further. They'll be people such as those that develop eczema, patients that are on certain treatments for acne including the oral rhetinoids." Said Dr Robert Salmon
Also more vulnerable are outdoor workers and young children who wear nano-sunscreen everyday
"Some of the studies show that with lots of reflection and movement around the joints, these nano particles may penetrate further under those circumstances." He continued
"With 85% of Australians wanting labelling, why is the government sitting on its hands and doing nothing." Argues Dr. Gregory Crocetti
Health and industry groups are calling on the government's Therapeutic Goods Administration to introduce mandatory labelling to let people know if nano particles are in sunscreens.
"The European Union is taking bold steps to introduce labelling laws to protect people. Here in Australia we're getting no protection." He said
Some nano-free sunscreen brands: Invisible Zinc, The Wiggles, Chemmart, Face of Australia, Le Tan, Natio, Woolworths Select and Coles, Jurlique, Auscreen, Amcal, certain Banana Boat products, Terry White Chemists.
Cancer Council sunscreens are all nano free and zinc-based, no titanium dioxide in the ingredients; says CEO Dr Andrew Penman "They are simply not necessary for sunscreen effect. They don't add to the sunscreen quality. The cancer council range are in your terms, a sure bet."
Best sunscreen buys. The Cancer Council's Sport 500 mls at $20.69 and Ultra 600 mls @ $21.20, Woolworths Select 500 mls @ $7.99, Coles Lotion 1 litre @ just $13.43 all are SPF 30+.
"Friends of the Earth have surveyed over 140 Sunscreen brands and produced a guide so Australians have a choice to go nano-free with their sunscreens." Said Dr Gregory Crocetti, from Friends of the Earth
It's still very important to keep wearing sunscreens everyday - but you do have a choice to buy the nano-free products. Go to our website and download the Friends of the Earth pamphlet listing the nano-free ones.
Safe Sunscreen Guide by Friends of the Earth
The link for consumers to download the guide is:
or for information call the Cancer Council Helpline on: 13 11 20