Friends of the Earth ("FOE") published another "warning" paper about suncreens containing nanoscale materials.

I. Illuminato, et al., “A Consumer Guide for Avoiding Nano-Sunscreens,” Friends of the Earth, August 2007.

The tone of the paper is set with a cover photograph of a grandparent applying sunscreen (possibly containing nanoscale materials??) to the back and neck of a vulnerable and unsuspecting child at a family beach outing.  FOE’s position on sunscreens containing nanoscale materials is then quickly made clear with statements such as:  “These nanoparticles are being added without appropriate labeling or reliable safety information.”  "While nanoparticles are invisible to the human eye, their potential health impacts are huge . . . ” including “unprecedented mobility and enhanced toxicity.”  "Nanoparticles can potentially weak havoc on our health if absorbed through the skin.”  They “[c]an enter vital organs, tissues and even our bodies’ cells.”  “Nanoparticles used in sunscreens can cause severe damage to our DNA, disrupt the function of our cells, and even lead to cell death.”

The most unfortunate thing about FOE’s hyperbolic attack on nano-sunscreens is that it purports to be science-based.  For example, great attention is given to studies indicating certain nanoscale materials may have the ability to penetrate the skin down into living tissue.  Unfortunately, no converse studies are cited, and several of the cited studies have nothing to do with nano-sunscreen ingredients (e.g./ quantum dots).  Rather than providing a true overview of the state of the science regarding nanoscale titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide used in sunscreens, the article attempts to shock and scare consumers into believing sunscreen manufacturers are knowingly incorporating deadly substances into their products.

Beyond, the verbal rhetoric, the article also purports to contain the results of a survey of more than 120 sunscreens manufacturers to determine whether their products contain nanoscale materials.  Probably anticipating where the article was headed even before it was written, only nine manufacturers responded to the survey.  These nine apparently answered that their products do not contain nanoscale materials., for which they received a "green" rating by FOE.  Products from the other 111 companies who declined to participate in the survey were then divided into two remaining categories: (i) uncertain/might contain nanoscale materials ("yellow" rating), and (ii) definitely contain nanoscale materials ("red" rating).  Even though they did not participate in the survey, the "red" category companies were branded as such on the basis of information found on the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’ consumer nano-product database.  While the concept of a consumer nano-product database may have value, companies should be aware WWI posts no limit on the use of its database, making it fair game for NGO’s like FOE to use in whatever manner they see fit.

The article concludes by reiterating FEO’s call for an “immediate moratorium on the commercial release of all nanotechnological materials and products until such time as . . . “ they are proved safe and effective to FEO’s satisfaction.  The article also asks readers to contact FDA and complain that nanoscale materials are not being properly regulated (in FOE’s opinion), and also to contact the "yellow" rated companies and ask them to disclose whether or not their products contain nanoscale materials.