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Posted: August 21, 2009
Nano-Sunscreens: Issue continues to be controversially discussed
(Nanowerk News) Only a few days after the release of the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "2009 Sunscreen Investigation" report, a coalition of public interest groups including Friends of the Earth (FoE), Consumers Union and the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA) have taken position in the highly controversial debate about the safety of sunscreens containing manufactured nanomaterials. Unlike in the EWG investigation, the new FoE report cites "top reasons fo precaution" and says "itís clear that sunscreens containing nanomaterials are not worth the risk".
Friends of the Earth teamed up with Consumers Union and the International Center for Technology Assessment to compile the latest info about nanomaterials in sunscreens (pdf) and their potential hazards. According to FoE, "when you look at the data, itís clear that sunscreens containing nanomaterials are not worth the risk".
This conclusion is contrary to what an investigation of EWG researchers found when testing over 1600 sunscreen products. They came to the conclusion that sunscreen products based on micro- or nanoscaled zinc and titanium oxide are among the safest and most effective on the market. Essentially, the EWG investigation included in their considerations the benefits of avoiding potentially hazardous chemical ingredients and the effectiveness of sunscreen products in blocking broadband UV-radiation.
On the contrary, according to FoE, "Consumers Union tests found no correlation between nanomaterial content and sun protection. Manufactured nanomaterials are widely used in sunscreen to make sun-blocking ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide rub on clear instead of white. While these nanomaterials donít improve sun protection, they exhibit different fundamental physical, biological, and chemical properties than their larger counterparts. Very few nanomaterials have been adequately tested, though available data shows their small size makes them more able to enter lungs, pass through cell membranes, and possibly penetrate damaged or sun-burnt skin."
Studies have raised red flags about the environmental impacts that may stem from the release of nanomaterials into broader ecosystems. Once released into the environment, many nanomaterials may persist and accumulate as pollutants in air, soil or water. A 2006 study demonstrated that some forms of titanium dioxide nanoparticles (popular ingredients in nano-sunscreens) are toxic to algae and water fleas, especially after exposure to UV light. Algae and water fleas are a vital part of marine ecosystems.
Further concerns have been raised about risks to workers who produce nano-containing products. Workers handling nanomaterials are likely to be exposed at much higher levels than the general public, and on a more consistent basis. There are currently no established safe levels of exposure to nanomaterials and no reliable systems and equipment to protect workers from harmful levels of exposure.
At least in the debate on labelling of nanomaterials in sunscreens the two NGO (groups) have the same opinion. Both are requiring nanomaterial labeling so that consumers can make informed choices.