UV sunscreens and nanoparticle risks

Most of the discussion about the safety of nanoparticles is split in to the consumer end use of the products or the occupational hazards of their manufacture.  Safety managers, however, need to look at the potential risks of nanoparticles from consumer products that are used in the workplace.  New Australian research again focuses on sunscreens.

SunSmart, part of the Cancer Council of Victoria, provides a sample UV safety policy for workplaces which states

“Management will……….:

  • provide and ensure use of appropriate sun protective PPE in line with SunSmart guidelines including:
    • sun protective work clothing
    • sun protective hats
    • sunglasses
    • sunscreen.”

The WorkSafe/Sunsmart “Skin cancer and outdoor work – A guide for employers” guidelines reprinted in February 2009 provides a good example of the current recommendations of sunscreen use which are, basically, use it a lot but in conjunction with other PPE Measures.

Current Australian research by Dr Amanda Barnard, reported in the Australian media in March 2010, mentions the unexplored health risks from using some of the recent sunscreen products.  One report says the results of her research:

“… add to questions about the safety of sunscreens. The main concern is whether the nanoparticles interact with sunlight to produce free radicals that damage tissues or DNA. ”There’s a trade-off to be made here,” Dr Barnard said. ”Currently it’s a situation of ‘is it better to protect yourself from UV rays or hold off and see what happens?

”But in the future it may be ‘is it better to protect yourself from UV rays or protect ourself from something else?”’

Dr Barnard, no stranger to the readers of SafetyAtWorkBlog as the hyperlink shows, states the question that all OHS professionals and safety managers must ask if they have workers who work outside in the sunshine.

It has to be emphasised that Sunscreen is only one of the control measures recommended but it remains one that many workers and workplaces rely on more than others.  Sunscreen is an item of personal protective equipment and needs to be seen as such in OHS management but it is an item that has the potential to generate severe and life-threatening illnesses in workers in the future, as was pointed out by Australian unionists in early 2009.   A reasonable application of risk management principles to this matter would conclude that non-nanoparticle sunscreens, which already exist on the market, should be given priority for use in work situations.

Kevin Jones

SafetyAtWorkBlog has written several articles on nanotechnology issues over the last few years so please use the search function on the right to locate at least a dozen articles related to “nanotechnology”.

Categories chemicals, environment, evidence, nanotechnology, OHS, PPE, risk, safety, Ultraviolet, UncategorizedTags , ,

2 thoughts on “UV sunscreens and nanoparticle risks”

  1. Sunputty SPF 30 is a theraputic sunscreen without use of water alcohol or petroleum as empty solvents. Working ingredients in Sunputty SPF 30 without use of synthetic chemicals creates a naturally powerful healthy sunscreen without harm to you or the environment. Sunputty utilizes ingredients that aid in prevention of damaged skin and aid in protection against UVA/UVB rays. Gentle and protective for everyone. Good for You Good for the Earth

  2. There are several studies on the absorption of nanoparticles in sunscreens. For example, at the recent ICONN Conference in Sydney, Professor Brian Gulson, from Macquarie University, NSW reported on the latest research conducted by him and his team: Dermal absorption of ZnO particles from sunscreens applied to humans at the beach. They found that the nanoparticles of zinc oxide penetrated the skin through various parts of the back (area they used) and were slowly released into the bloodstream and perhaps into muscles. He said they could also go into the liver – and that there have been studies indicating that ZnO is cytotoxic. They also found high levels in the urine of subjects, with some effect even 40 days after last application.

    The study was limited as it involved a small number of adults only, with application over only a five day period, and they used backs, an area with probably the least chance of penetration. However, he made the point that even though the uptake through healthy skin is minimal, we may need to be concerned particularly with relation to occupational users and children.

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