Environmental watchdog makes an exception for nanoparticles in sunscreens

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Ultraviolet, Ewg

The environmental and public health interest group the EWG has decided the benefits of nanoparticles in sunscreens outweigh the risks.

The group has historically taken a very precautionary stance towards nanoparticles in consumer products; however, with the publication of its annual sunscreen guide it has taken a more positive approach.

Nanosize particles of UV filters titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are becoming increasingly common as they improve protection and coverage, and eliminate the white reflective sheen previously associated with high SPF products.

“In general we are very concerned about the untapped use of nanotechnology in all types of products. In this case, however, the situation seems very unique,”​ EWG’s Sonya Lunder told CosmeticsDesign.

According to EWG’s 2009 sunscreen report, consumers who use sunscreens without zinc and titanium are exposed to an average of 20 percent more UVA radiation than those using the filters.

In addition, avoidance of the physical filters zinc and titanium would lead to a reliance on chemical fillers which according to EWG are associated with hormonal disruptions and cancer.

Furthermore, EWG looked into a number of studies investigating whether nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can penetrate the skin barrier, and the weight of evidence showed there was very little, if any, penetration.

Nano-particles confer benefits

“Because we are talking about UV protection and we know that these particles can confer benefits then we took this more positive stance towards nano,”​ she said, adding that it involved significant debate and review and was not an easy choice to make.

Nevertheless, EWG criticizes FDA for dragging its feet over approving new filters that are currently available to formulators in Europe. More filters would give formulators more choice which could lead to alternatives to nano zinc and titanium, it argued.

“Although we have decided the benefits outweigh the risks in terms of skin penetration there still might be other risks involved, such as those associated with worker’s health and other environmental issues,”​ explained Lunder.

When asked if the group was likely to change its views on the use of nanoparticles in other consumer products, Lunder was unconvinced.

“There would have to be a very conceivable public health benefit before we would even consider it,”​ she said.

Related topics: Formulation & Science

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