Sunscreen scandal: Ingredient used in major brands falsely marketed as non-nano
Finding raises health concerns for consumers in Australia and the U.S., sparks formal complaint
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today Friends of the Earth groups in Australia and the U.S. revealed that a product used in major sunscreen brands was falsely marketed to the companies and subsequently to their customers as a “non-nano” ingredient.1 The revelation, first reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, adds urgency to watchdog groups’ call for government action to require testing and labeling of sunscreens with nano-ingredients, which studies indicate have potentially serious health risks.
At the root of the scandal is ZinClear IM, a product manufactured by the Australian company Antaria and used in the biggest sunscreen brands in Australia and in U.S. brands including Victoria’s Secret, Estee Lauder, Jason Natural, Desert Essence and others. Investigation of product information and patents for Friends of the Earth by the Australian National Measurement Institute found that, contrary to Antaria’s claims, ZinClear IM is a nanomaterial.2
Friends of the Earth Australia today launched a complaint with the Australian equivalent to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission accusing Antaria of misleading and deceptive conduct. A range of other organizations have backed the complaint, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Public Health Association of Australia.
“It is deeply concerning that people trying to avoid nano-ingredients in sunscreen have been misled in this way,” said Dr. Gregory Crocetti from Friends of the Earth Australia’s Nanotechnology Project. “Dermatologists and toxicologists have made public warnings that people with damaged skin, young children, and people who use sunscreens very regularly are at greater risk of exposure to nanomaterials and should avoid using nano-sunscreens.”
“It appears that consumers who thought they were buying nano-free sunscreens for their family were misled, and ultimate responsibility in the U.S. lies squarely with the Food and Drug Administration,” said Ian Illuminato, health and environment campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S. “If the FDA had properly regulated and labelled nano-ingredients in sunscreen, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
Illuminato sent letters last week to all U.S. companies using ZinClear IM to alert them to the fact that Antaria’s product is in fact a nano-ingredient. In December 2011, Friends of the Earth U.S. and other public interest groups sued the FDA over its failure to regulate sunscreens and other consumer products containing nanomaterials, resulting in the FDA’s announcement in April 2012 of baby steps forward, including re-opening its over-the-counter sunscreen regulations for review.
The National Measurement Institute released research earlier this year showing that a number of sunscreen products that used ZinClear IM contained nanomaterials. Importantly, the independent tests by NMI were much more rigorous than the laser light scattering measuring techniques used by companies including Antaria — which do not differentiate between bulk particles and clumps of nanoparticles, which are acknowledged as nanomaterials under international definitions. Friends of the Earth Australia commissioned NMI to conduct a closer investigation of ZinClear IM’s patent, which substantiated the initial results.
“Alarmingly little research has been conducted into the health risks associated with nano-ingredients in sunscreen,” said Dr. Crocetti. “There are growing health concerns among scientists and skin specialists, including fears that nano-ingredients in sunscreens could lead to cancer.”
“We have a right to know that the sunscreens we put on our bodies are safe, and this scandal shows how far the government is falling down in its job to ensure it,” said Illuminato. “Europe and New Zealand are moving toward the regulation of nano-ingredients in sunscreens and it’s past time for the United States to do the same.”3
In Australia: Dr. Gregory Crocetti, +61 0403 733 628
1. Perth-based manufacturer Antaria Limited has repeatedly made claims that ZinClear-IM is not a nanomaterial — including words such as “not a nano-material” and “micron sized (non-nano)” — to its customers and the Australian stockmarket.
2. Friends of the Earth Australia commissioned an expert opinion from the National Measurement Institute in Australia, which has confirmed that Antaria’s ZinClear IM patent is a nanomaterial under existing definitions. Major international definitions, such as the International Organization for Standardization (Defined in: ISO/TS 80004-1:2010) and the European Commission agree that nanomaterials include agglomerates and aggregates of nano-objects
3. European regulation of sunscreens will come into effect in July 2013, requiring mandatory nano-specific risk assessments and labeling of nano-ingredients. New Zealand will require labeling on nano-ingredients in sunscreens from 2015.
Friends of the Earth U.S. fights to defend the environment and create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.