The ACCC has refused to take action against two sunscreen ingredient manufacturers, Antaria and Ross Cosmetics, for misleading conduct, despite clear evidence that the two companies sold nanomaterials as ‘non nano’ and ‘nanoparticle free’. Some of Australia’s biggest sunscreen brands were misled by Antaria and Ross and repeated their non-nano claims - including products such as Cancer Council Classic, Invisible Zinc Junior and Body sunscreens, Coles Sports and Woolworths Clear Zinc.
The ACCC has attempted to justify its refusal to act by claiming that there is no regulatory definition of nanomaterial in Australia. However both Antaria and Ross’s products are considered nanomaterials under relevant Australian, European and International ISO definitions.
The ACCC has also claimed that there is no credible evidence that sunscreens containing nanoparticles pose a health risk. The ACCC’s job is not to assess the safety of products but to determine if companies have engaged in misleading conduct, which in this instance they clearly have. The ACCC is not qualified to assess safety and its opinion that nano-ingredients are safe is not shared by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS).
The SCCS recently recommended that certain nano titanium dioxide (TiO2) ingredients not be used in sunscreen because they strongly react with sunlight to produce free radicals and that nano TiO2 and nano zinc oxide (ZnO) not be used in powder or sprayable products because of the toxicity risk associated with inhalation. The European Chemical Agency (ECHA) is also currently reviewing the safety of titanium dioxide (including the nano form) because of concerns in may be harmful to the environment and human health. Meanwhile our regulators here have taken no action to remove these ingredients from sunscreen.
Furthermore, a recent Italian in vitro study using pig ear skin found that nano titanium dioxide damaged the outer layer of skin. The researchers warned that this could allow nanoparticles and other unwanted chemicals to penetrate the skin - posing a potential human health risk.
The EU already requires the safety testing and labelling of nano-ingredients in sunscreens and New Zealand will require labelling from 2015, yet in Australia nano-ingredients in sunscreen remain unregulated.
Sunscreen ingredient manufacturers clearly can’t be trusted to provide meaningful information about the ingredients they are selling - which is why we need regulation. This scandal would never have happened if Australia regulated the use of nano-ingredients in sunscreens and ensured accurate labelling.
It’s a sad indictment of our regulators that Europe is leading the way when it comes to regulating nano-ingredients in sunscreen, when Australia is the place where sun is such a fierce presence in everyone’s life. Australians should have the same right to know what is in the products they buy as Europeans.