Potential risks and benefits of nanotechnology: perceptions of risk in sunscreens

Paul FA Wright
Med J Aust 2016; 204 (10): 369-370. || doi: 10.5694/mja15.01128

The available evidence indicates that nanoparticle sunscreens are both effective and safe

The applications for engineered nanomaterials and nanotechnology are developing exponentially, along with the awareness in government, industry and public groups of nanosafety issues. There is also growing public concern caused by negative perceptions among some high profile groups that nano-enabled products are proliferating uncontrollably and being released without adequate testing of their safety.1

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  • Paul FA Wright

  • RMIT University, Melbourne, VIC


Competing interests:

I have received research funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Safe Work Australia, the CSIRO Flagship collaboration fund top-up scholarship scheme, the Australian Synchrotron Foundation, and the Advanced Manufacturing Co-operative Research Centre (AMCRC) in cooperation with the commercial entities, the Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing (VCAMM), Baxter Laboratories, and Micronisers. I am affiliated with NanoSafe Australia and Asia Nano Safe research networks (as founding coordinator), the Australian Nanotechnology Network, the Standards Australia Technical Committee NT-001 (Nanotechnologies), the Safe Work Australia Nanotechnology OHS Measurement Reference Group, the Australian consortium for the OECD Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (WPMN) and its Sponsorship Programme for the Testing of Manufactured Nanomaterials, and am a Fellow of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

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  • 5. Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety. Opinion on zinc oxide (nano form) (COLIPA S 76; SCCS/1489/12) (adopted 18 Sept 2012). Luxembourg: European Commission, 2012. (accessed Sept 2015).
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access_time 03:37, 9 June 2016
Louise Sales

The view that nano-ingredients in sunscreen are safe is not shared by the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS). This body recently recommended that certain nano titanium dioxide ingredients not be used in sunscreen because they strongly react with sunlight to produce damaging free radicals. In fact, Paul Wright’s own research suggests that nanoparticles of anatase titanium dioxide increase the production of free radicals in human immune cells – yet this ingredient is still allowed in sunscreen in Australia.

The SCCS further recommends that nano titanium dioxide and nano zinc oxide not be used in powder or sprayable products because of the toxicity risk associated with inhalation. Meanwhile our regulators here have taken no action to remove these ingredients from spray on sunscreen.

In 2004, the UK Royal Society argued that nanomaterials pose different risks to larger particles of the same chemicals and need to be assessed for safety before being allowed in consumer products. It is a shocking indictment of our Government’s lack of precaution that over a decade later these substances have still not been assessed for safety, despite being used in a growing number of consumer products.

Competing Interests: No relevant disclosures

Ms Louise Sales
Friends of the Earth

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