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The Truth About Sunscreen & Nanoparticles


Most Australians and sun lovers live by the mantra, ‘slip, slop, slap’ to protect our skin from the damaging rays of the sun. But what some of us don’t realize is that the sunscreen that we think is protecting us may actually be doing us more harm than the suns rays.

Many sunscreen creams are loaded with chemicals, unnatural ingredients and nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are microscopic metallic ingredients made up of aluminum, zinc, titanium and silica. They help make sunscreen transparent and easier to spread. Nanoparticles are also present in many cosmetic products such as face creams and foundations.

So what’s so bad about nanoparticles?

Nanoparticles produce free radicals, which are often referred to as oxidants. Oxidants are unstable molecules that can attack the cells in your body and can increase your chances of getting cancer and can even lead to birth defects. The free radicals can damage DNA and skin cells.
Their tiny size makes it easy for them to be absorbed into the skin and our bloodstream.

Whilst there is no conclusive evidence at the moment to prove that they cause cancer. There are more studies underway to bring some light into the situation. The leader of CSIRO’s Nanosafety group warned in 2008 that in a worst-case scenario, nano-ingredients in sunscreens could cause skin cancer.

If you’re like me and live by the theory ‘Better to be safe than sorry’ you may want to avoid them, specially on babies and children and if your skin is sensitive to allergies, have any skin conditions or if you’ve have any skin cancers in the past or work outdoors a lot.

There are currently over 400 sunscreens sold in Australia that contain nanoparticles in varying amounts.

Nano-free sunscreen brands include:

  • Cancer Council (Cancer Council sunscreens are all nano free and zinc-based, with no titanium dioxide in the ingredients)
  • Invisible Zinc
  • The Wiggles
  • Chemmart
  • Face of Australia
  • Le Tan
  • Natio
  • Woolworths Select
  • Coles
  • Jurlique
  • Auscreen
  • Amcal
  • Some Banana Boat
  • Terry White Chemists
  • Zinke by Key Sun

EarthFirst disclaimer: Some of the products above may contain other chemicals that we are not aware of, this is list of items that dont contain nano particles only. There are other organic and natural sunscreens listed in our green earth guide that  might be worth trying out.

So if you’re enjoying the sunny days this summer don’t forget to:

  • Cover up with clothing
  • Wear a hat with a brim
  • Limit the amount of time in the sun and stay in the shade
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Apply an SPF 30+ sunscreen 20 minutes before you plan to go out in the sun.
  • Sunscreens get easily wiped, or sweated off so reapply every couple of hours.

What else can you do?

Naon-ingredients in sunscreens are not subject to mandatory labeling. This is specially a problem for people with skin conditions such as eczema tha may make them more vunerable to skin penetration by nanoparticles. The Australian Government needs to enforce that all products feature these labels. To help make this happen take a minute to sign this petition by the Friends of the Earth Nanotechnology Project

Find out more:

What do you think?