Experts fear that warnings about possible health risks from tiny particles used in some sunscreens may kill people.
Concern about the potential damage from an anti-nanotechnology campaign being run by environment group Friends of the Earth is so great that public health advocates are abandoning their previous cautions on using sunscreens with nanoparticles, according to the Age.
"In the past I have said that consumers are better to avoid sunscreen with nanoparticles in it. But we are rethinking our position as evidence grows of people being reluctant to use sunscreen," said Michael Moore, chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia.
It isn’t yet proved that nanoparticles in sunscreen are harmful to health, but the concern is that they generate free radicals that could penetrate cells and interact with cell protein or DNA in unknown ways.
Though there is no proof of health damage from sunscreens, it was proven beyond doubt that using them protects against the skin cancer that causes 200 Australian deaths annually and for which hundreds and thousands of Australians are treated every year, said Terry Slevin, chairman of Cancer Council Australia's skin cancer committee.
"Scaring people based on extremely unconvincing evidence of a theoretical problem meant public health harm is likely to occur," Slevin said.
Maxine McCall, CSIRO nanosafety research co-ordinator and senior principal research scientist, said there is more risk from not using sunscreen and getting burnt than there is from using sunscreen and the potential penetration of nanoparticles.