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Sunscreen scandal questions and answers

For an introduction to the issue please see our fact sheet

What’s the basic story?

We have revealed that a major Perth-based sunscreen ingredient manufacturer –Antaria Limited - appears to have been misrepresenting the nano-content of the product ZinClear IM.

Another major sunscreen manufacturer –Ross Cosmetics, based in Melbourne - has also been marketing the ingredient ‘Zinc Oxide Neutral’ as nanoparticle-free to their customers.

However, it is clear from the ZinClear patent and Zinc Oxide Neutral product guide that both of these ingredients are based on clumps (aggregates and agglomerates respectively) of nanoparticles. See our factsheet for an explanation of these definitions.

What proof have you got that Antaria’s ZinClear IM product is a nanomaterial?

In February this year, Antaria’s Manager of Research and Dvelopment confirmed in writing the patent that was the basis of their main product – ZinClear IM. Friends of the Earth commissioned a report from the National Measurement Institute (NMI), which looked at this patent. In this report, the NMI concludes:

“It is the opinion of the National Measurement Institute (NMI) that the “mesoporous zinc oxide powder” described in Patent US 2010/0310871 A1 is a “nanomaterial” according to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Specifications, and an “industrial nanomaterial” as defined in the Australian Government National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) document “Guidance on New Chemical Requirements for Notification of Industrial Materials”.

What groups have endorsed FoE’s ACCC complaint against Antaria?

The Australian Education Union (AEU), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), State Public Services Federation Group (SPSF) of the CPSU, the Community and Public Sector Union, Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC), the Australia Institute (TAI), National Toxics Network (NTN), GeneEthics, Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC), Ethical Consumer Group (ECG) and MADGE.

What proof have you got that the Zinc Oxide Neutral product used by Ross Cosmetics contains nanoparticles?

We have obtained the “Zinc Oxide Neutral” product information sheet produced by Symrise. This guide clearly states that Zinc Oxide Neutral is made up of agglomerates (clumps) of nanoparticles.

Which brands does this affect?

Pioneering new research from the National Measurement Institute presented earlier this year revealed that 4 sunscreen brands that were listed as ‘nano-free’ in Friends of the Earth’s Safe Sunscreen Guide actually contained nanomaterials. These brands were:

  • Cancer Council Classic
  • Invisible Zinc Junior and Body sunscreens
  • Coles Sports

The only product tested that was nano-free was Banana Boat Sport.

Antaria have actively promoted the fact that the Cancer Council and Invisible Zinc use ZinClear IM in these products and Coles disclosed to FoE that they used Zinc Oxide Neutral in many of their sunscreens.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) conducted a survey in October 2011, asking sunscreen companies to answer a series of questions about their products. In response, some companies also provided FOE with certificates of analysis or graphs from their ingredient or sunscreen manufacturer.

Based on these responses -   
the following brands have sunscreen products that use ZinClear IM:

  • Invisible Zinc 'Body' & 'Junior' sunscreens
  • Cancer Council 'Classic', 'Sensitive' & 'Mineral'
  • Natural Instinct
  • ChemMart
  • Terry White Chemists
  • Pharmacy Choice
  • WotNot
  • Graham’s Sunclear
  • Woolworths Select  'Clear Zinc'
  • Mukti 'Tinted Moisturiser with sunscreen'

It is fantastic that Mukti has done the right thing to protect consumers by recalling and reformulating its affected product.

the following brands have sunscreen products that use Zinc Oxide Neutral:

  • Auscreen   'Clear Zinc'
  • Coles    'Sports, Sensitive & Mens Protect '
  • Sunzapper   'Clear Zinc'
  • Coco Island   'Clear Zinc'

It’s worth noting that many sunscreen brands have multiple sunscreen products, many of which don’t use zinc oxide as an active ingredient in their sunscreen. For example, Woolworths Select only has the ‘Clear Zinc’ product that uses ZinClear IM, out of a total of 14 sunscreen products.

We will update this list as soon as any new information comes to light about brand and product names.

In the meanwhile, one of the best indicators of product from brands likely using either ZinClear IM or Zinc Oxide Neutral is products advertised as 'Clear Zinc'.

It’s also worth making clear that we believe all of these brands were probably misled. But ultimately, this means that we've all been buying nano-sunscreens for years, while believing otherwise.

How is it possible that so many sunscreen brands were misled?

Antaria and Ross Cosmetics only provided basic measurement data of large micrometre-sized 'particles' to their sunscreen brand customers, so it appears their customers likely thought they were buying products containing bulk particles of zinc oxide.

Most critically, the companies don’t seem to have emphasized the fact that the 'particles' they were supplying were manufactured aggregates or agglomerates (clumps) of nanoparticles with nano-structures.

Definitions of nanomaterials – both here and overseas − describe aggregates of nanoparticles as a nanomaterial. This is because all of the little nooks and crannies on these aggregates/clusters mean they have a similar surface area to the individual nanoparticles that they are made up of.
That matters a lot, because the greater the surface area a chemical has, the greater the potential for it to create dangerous free radicals.

How is it possible that Antaria, Ross and sunscreen brands such as the Cancer Council are claiming they have tested their products with laser light scattering and found no nanoparticles?

Research by the National Measurement Institute (NMI) released earlier this year showed that a number of Australian sunscreen products contained nanomaterials. Further investigation by FoE revealed that these sunscreen products containing nanomaterials used ingredients supplied by Antaria and Ross Cosmetics.

Importantly, the laser light scattering measurements presented by Antaria and Ross cannot differentiate between solid (bulk) particles and clumps (agglomerates and aggregates) of nanoparticles.

In order to file the ZinClear IM patent (US2010/0310871 A1), Antaria had to scientifically demonstrate the characteristics of the ZinClear IM aggregates.

In order to characterise the size of the aggregates, Antaria scientists used laser light scattering measurements (using a Malvern Mastersizer), to demonstrate that the aggregates were approximately 1 micrometre in size.

However, Antaria also used a range of other techniques for this patent, such as Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and X-ray diffraction (XRD) to demonstrate the primary particles in the ZinClear IM aggregates were approximately 20 nanometres in size,

In simple terms, this is clear proof that Antaria were then able to prove that ZinClear IM aggregates was made up of nanoparticles, covered in nanostructured pores.

And on the basis of these measurement results, NMI Nanometrology experts concluded that ZinClear IM is a nanomaterial.

Our evidence is solid. I wish we could say the same about the ZinClear IM aggregates or Zinc Oxide Neutral agglomerates!

What is the solution?

We need a crackdown on companies making misleading statements, so that corrective action is taken to start restoring confidence.

And most importantly, the Australian government needs to properly test and label nano-ingredients in sunscreens.

FoE have set up a online action where concerned Australians can email the government to demand proper regulation of nano-ingredients in sunscreen.

Antaria are claiming there are no internationally agreed definitions and that they are non-nano. What is FoE’s response?

To answer this, we need to understand what “non-nano” means.
That’s why we need definitions. And if we look at the definitions of  nano (nanomaterials) around the world (ISO), and even here in Australia (NICNAS), we see the definitions include aggregates and agglomerates (clumps) of nanoparticles.

In February, Antaria confirmed in writing the patent that was the basis of their main product – ZinClear IM.  Based on this patent and key definitions, the National Measurement Institute have concluded the Zinclear IM product is a nanomaterial.

Ross Cosmetics are claiming they aren’t making sunscreens with nanoparticles. What is FoE’s response?

Based on the Zinc Oxide Neutral product guide, we can clearly see this product is based on agglomerates of nanoparticles. Agglomerates are loosely bound clumps of nanoparticles, so what’s especially concerning here is that we know nothing about how stable these nanoparticles are through the manufacturing process.

How can I avoid nano-ingredients in sunscreen?

Any sunscreens that contain the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and also rub on clear may contain nano-ingredients. We suggest you contact your sunscreen brand and ask whether their ingredients are nano-free. But really what we really need is the safety testing and labelling of these products. Europeans will have this protection from July next year so why can’t Australians? Friends of the Earth are asking everyone to sign our online petition urging the Federal Government to take action.

 

Formal correspondences between FoE and Antaria

Friends of the Earth letter to Antaria - 21 May, 2012

Friends of the Earth letter to Antaria - 6 July, 2012

Antaria letter to Friends of the Earth - 11 July, 2012

Antaria ASX Announcement - 25 July, 2012

Friends of the Earth reply to Antaria (July 11th) letter - 3 August, 2012