Concerns About Sunscreen Nanoparticles Put Australians at Risk of Skin Cancer

8 February 2012

Australians are putting themselves at increased risk of potentially deadly skin cancers by cutting sunscreen use because of concerns about sun-protecting nanoparticles.

This is one of the findings of a recent study conducted for the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, that was released today at the International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Perth.

According to Dr Craig Cormick, Manager of Public Awareness and Community Engagement for the National Enabling Technologies Strategy (NETS-PACE), one in four people who had heard stories about the risks of using sunscreens with nanoparticles felt that it was safer to use no sunscreen than to use a nanosunscreen.

Cancer Council Australia reports that we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with over 440,000 people receiving medical treatment for skin cancers each year, and over 1,700 people dying of all types of skin cancer annually.

“An online poll of 1,000 people, conducted in January this year, shows that one in three Australians had heard or read stories about the risks of using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them,” Dr Cormick said.

“Thirteen percent of this group were concerned or confused enough that they would be less likely to use any sunscreen, whether or not it contained nanoparticles, putting them selves at increased risk of developing potentially deadly skin cancers.

“The study also found that while one in five respondents stated they would go out of their way to avoid using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them, over three in five would need to know more information before deciding.”

When zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreens are reduced to the very tiny nanoscale they make the sunscreen transparent.

The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has released a statement on safety of sunscreens containing nanoparticles that concluded: “… the current weight of evidence suggests that TiO2 (titanium dioxide) and ZnO (zinc oxide) nanoparticles do not reach viable skin cells, rather, they remain on the surface of the skin and in the outer layer of the skin…”  

The full report is available at the TGA's website.

The full survey data is available at the NETS-PACE website.

Further information on nanoparticles and sunscreens is on the Cancer Council website.