Citing test results from Australia’s National Measurement Institute (NMI), environmental advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE) has called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the use of a potentially hazardous nanoscale ingredient—anatase titanium dioxide—purportedly found in many popular sunscreen and cosmetic products. According to FOE, studies have shown that the anatase form of titanium dioxide (and, in particular, nano-scale anatase titanium dioxide) can increase the formation of free radicals when exposed to sunlight and water, and a number of scientists have questioned the safety of its use in sunscreens and other skin products. Although the products NMI tested are reportedly sold in Australia, FOE notes that several of the brands tested are also sold in the United States and other global markets and “therefore may use similar ingredients in their formulations.”

FOE is calling for an immediate ban on the use of anatase titanium dioxide in sunscreen and cosmetics and for safety testing and labeling of nano-ingredients in sunscreen and other body-care products. “Europe will require the safety testing and labeling of nano-ingredients in sunscreens starting in July 2013. However, the U.S. government continues to reject calls for adequate safety testing and labeling,” according to an organization press release.

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics co-founder Janet Nudelman asked, “We know that companies in the United States are incorporating nano-scale titanium dioxide in sunscreens and cosmetics, the question is, are they using it in anatase form? We encourage the FDA to give this serious public health issue the attention it deserves. Moreover, all nano-scale ingredients need to be adequately tested for safety before being used. Congress urgently needs to enact legislation that would more strictly regulate the cosmetics industry to ensure that nano-scale ingredients are labeled and to guarantee the personal care products we use every day are free from harmful chemicals in the first place.” The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has apparently requested that cosmetics manufacturers “remove carcinogens and other harmful chemicals from their personal care products; the laboratory findings on sunscreens reaffirm that immediate action by these companies to ensure product safety is critical.” See Friends of the Earth News Release, March 5, 2013.