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Test summary: Potentially toxic titanium dioxide in sunscreen and cosmetics

Posted Mar. 5, 2013 / Posted by: Ian Illuminato

Friends of the Earth has released new testing results from the Australian Government’s National Measurement Institute , which has found that many popular sunscreen and cosmetic products are using potentially hazardous forms of a common ingredient -- anatase titanium dioxide and nano anatase titanium dioxide. Six of the eight products tested, including well-known brands such as Nivea (Beiersdorf AG (BEIG.DE)), L'Oreal SA (OREP.PA), and CoverGirl (Procter & Gamble Co (NYSE:PG)), were found to contain this ingredient. 

Test results and resources:

Press release.

Summary of the test results.

Full test results from NMI: Sunscreens that contain anatase.

Full test results from NMI: Sunscreens that contain nano-ingredients.

Read more about the risks of nanosunscreens in the report Nano-ingredients in Sunscreen: The need for regulation.

Additional resources and information on nanotechnology and nanomaterials in sunscreens and other products

Frequently asked questions:

What did the recent tests find?

Why should we be concerned about anatase titanium dioxide?

Why should we be concerned about nanomaterials in sunscreen?

Can nanoparticles penetrate the skin?

Why aren’t nano ingredients labeled as such?

How can I avoid nano-ingredients in sunscreen? What about anatase and nano anatase ingredients?

What can we do to make sunscreen and cosmetics safer?

Other ways to protect yourself from the sun’s rays.

What did the recent tests find?

Sunscreens are an essential ingredient for fun in the sun. On the other hand, some sunscreens may not be as effective and safe as we think. On March 5, Friends of the Earth U.S. and Friends of the Earth Australia released new test results from the Australian Government’s National Measurement Institute showing many popular sunscreen and cosmetic products, made by companies including Nivea, L’Oreal and CoverGirl, contain a potentially hazardous form of a common sunscreen and cosmetics ingredient -- anatase titanium dioxide. See the summary of the results. While the products tested are sold in Australia, several of these brands are also sold in the United States and other markets globally and may use similar formulations.

Why should we be concerned about anatase titanium dioxide?

Some skin cancers are linked to UV-induced free radical damage of DNA and skin cells, which is why wearing sunscreens with strong broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection is a good idea. However, recent peer reviewed studies have shown that the anatase form of titanium dioxide, found in sunscreens, is a potent photocatylist and can greatly increase the formation of free radicals when exposed to sunlight and water. Studies have shown that nano anatase titanium dioxide (1-100 nm) is even more reactive and therefore hazardous, and a number of scientists have questioned the safety of the  use of this ingredient in sunscreens and other skin products.1

For example, in 2008, an Australian study found that nano anatase titanium dioxide in sunscreen was reacting with sunlight and breaking down the coating on steel roofs in a matter of weeks. This study was prompted by reports that coatings on painted roofs were breaking down in places where workers had inadvertently transferred sunscreen to roofs via skin contact. Researchers from the 2008 study found that this sunscreen ingredient increased the normal rate of sun damage to the roofs by 100 times.1 In 2010, Italian scientists warned that anatase titanium dioxide is “capable of destroying virtually any organic matter.”2 These studies raise serious concerns about the effect these ingredients may be having on our skin. This is of particular concern for infants and children who have thinner, developing skin and individuals likely to have broken skin due to contact dermatitis, eczema, acne or other skin conditions, which could potentially allow more particles to have contact with living cells.

Why should we be concerned about nanomaterials in sunscreen?

You may be surprised (and concerned) to know that many sunscreen products contain potentially hazardous nano-ingredients. Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of materials and the creation of structures and systems that exist at the scale of atoms and molecules. This is seriously tiny stuff: a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers (nm) in diameter.

Because of their size, the properties of nanoscale materials (measuring <100 nm) differ significantly from larger scales of the same materials, introducing new and potentially heightened risks of toxicity that remain poorly understood. Learn more about nanomaterials.

Can nanoparticles penetrate the skin?

We do not yet know the extent to which nanomaterials in sunscreens penetrate intact, healthy skin, although it seems likely they could have greater penetration through damaged skin. If nano titanium dioxide particles are absorbed into the skin, they could make sun damage worse. This could especially a problem for people with skin conditions such as eczema that may make them more vulnerable to skin penetration by nanomaterials.

Friends of the Earth Australia’s recent report Nano Ingredients in Sunscreen: the need for regulation outlines evidence that skin penetration by nanoparticles may occur.

Why aren’t nano ingredients labeled as such?

You won't find nano-ingredients listed on the label, because many product manufacturers would prefer that you didn't know about them. And because they're not legally required to list them on the label, they don't.

Nanomaterials are currently in a variety of cosmetics and sunscreens without being adequately assessed for safety. Nano-ingredients are not necessary to manufacture effective sunscreens and there is no need to put their commercial use ahead of appropriate health and environmental safety assessments.

Scientists around the world are increasingly concerned that the addition of nano-ingredients to a whole range of consumer goods like food, clothing and cosmetics may cause serious health problems. Because of this, regulators in Europe are introducing legislation to ensure that nano-ingredients used in sunscreens are labeled, and undergo safety testing. But the U.S. government refuses to take similar action. Tell the FDA we need safe sunscreens and cosmetics now.

How can I avoid nano-ingredients in sunscreen? What about anatase and nano anatase ingredients?

Sunscreens that contain the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and also rub on clear with no white residue may contain nano-ingredients. Also, it is possible that the use of anatase titanium dioxide is widespread in sunscreens in Australia and possibly in other markets, including the U.S. Without proper labeling it is impossible to know.

What can we do to make sunscreen and cosmetics safer?

Until better regulations are in place, consumers should contact their sunscreen manufacturer and ask whether its ingredients are nano- and anatase titanium dioxide-free. If either ingredient is found in a product you use, demand that the company stop using it or risk losing your business.

However, we can’t shop our way out of this problem -- what we really need are health protective safety assessments that aim to protect our most vulnerable populations and labeling of nanomaterials (and of all sunscreen and cosmetic ingredients) and for our government to ban the use of anatase titanium dioxide and other hazardous ingredients in sunscreens and cosmetics.

Beyond pressuring individual manufacturers, you can sign our petition asking the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to test the safety of nano- and anatase-ingredients, and demand that products with these ingredients be labeled so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. Europe will require the safety testing and labeling of nano-ingredients in sunscreens starting in July 2013; the U.S. should do the same. 

You can also urge your Member of Congress to support the Safe Cosmetics Act when it is introduced in the new Congress to ensure that all cosmetics ingredients undergo health protective safety assessments before they end up in our products and on our bodies. 

Other ways to protect yourself from the sun’s rays:

• Stay in the shade, especially between the sun’s peak hours (10 a.m.- 4 p.m.).

• Cover up with clothing, a brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

• Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.

• Examine your skin, head-to-toe, every month.

• See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

Notes:

1. Other research articles demonstrating that anatase titanium dioxide is an aggressive free radical producer compared to rutile:

a. Barker P. & Branch A. (2008). The interaction of modern sunscreen formulations with surface coatings. Prog Org Coatings 62: 313–320. (study done on Colorbond roofs mentioned in press release)

b. Rampaul A., Parkin I. P. & Cramer L. P. (2007). Damaging and protective properties of inorganic components of sunscreens applied to cultured human skin cells. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology A: Chemistry 191: 138-148.  

2. 2010 study by Italian scientists: Tiano L., Armeni T., Venditti E., Barucca G., Laura Mincarelli L. & Damiani E. (2010). Modified TiO2 particles differentially affect human skin fibroblasts exposed to UVA light. Free Radical Biology & Medicine 49:408–415.

3. Europe will require the safety testing and labeling of nano-ingredients in sunscreens from July 2013, see European Commission - Public health guidance (05-07-2012). Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/dyna/enews/enews.cfm?al_id=1276 

4. UniQuest report commissioned by Friends of the Earth Australia. http://libcloud.s3.amazonaws.com/93/15/3/2814/UniQuest-Report-C01161.pdf

 

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