TGA tests Australian sunscreens for cancer-causing chemicals following US studies


Sunscreens sold in Australia will be tested after US studies found they contained two cancer-causing chemicals, Australia’s leading medical regulator has confirmed.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said it was investigating whether the products sold across the country contained two carcinogenic substances, benzene and benzophenone.

“The TGA is currently investigating this issue and is conducting testing of samples of sunscreen products containing benzene as well as products containing octocrylene for the presence of benzophenone and compliance with existing standards,” a spokesman said.

“The results of this testing will be published on the TGA website when available.”

In June, US company Valisure tested generic medicines for purity and found nearly 80 sunscreens, including popular brands similar to those sold in Australia, contained benzene.

Then another US laboratory found other sunscreens that contained the permitted ingredient octocrylene had another carcinogen – benzophenone.

Over time octocrylene degraded and produced benzophenone, the study found.

The TGA said it regularly conducted laboratory testing and reviewed the safety of Australian sunscreens.

“However, we have not regularly tested for carcinogens,” the medical regulator said.

US chemical testing laboratory Haereticus Environmental Laboratory wrote to the US medicines regulator the US Food and Drugs Administration asking it to pull all sunscreens that contained octocrylene.

The laboratory claimed an anti-ageing cream ingredient, octocrylene, contained in sunscreen degraded into a toxic chemical – benzophenone – a known carcinogen.

It could also interfere with hormones and “it may act as a reproductive toxicant”, the researchers said.

The presence of benzophenone in food products or food packaging is banned in the United States.

But octocrylene has been approved for use in sunscreens, moisturisers, lip balms, and anti-ageing products in the US.

Brands tested in the scientific research and found to contain the chemical included Coppertone, Banana Boat, Neutrogena, Garnier, LaRoche and L’Oreal.

The TGA said it was aware of the study’s findings in the US and noted octocrylene was an “approved active ingredient” used in sunscreen products marketed in Australia and overseas at a maximum concentration of 10 per cent.

“Based on currently available data, the TGA does not consider that octocrylene as an ingredient in sunscreens up to the currently permitted concentration presents an unacceptable safety risk when the sunscreens are used as directed,” it said.

The medical regulator also said benzophenone had been reported to be detected only at trace amounts in octocrylene-containing products.

“The TGA is actively monitoring the available data about the carcinogenic potential of benzophenone,” it said.

“There is currently insufficient information to conclude that sunscreens that are compliant with existing requirements for product stability and impurities, such as benzophenone, are unsafe.”

Cancer Council Victoria head of prevention Craig Sinclair said sunscreens sold in Australia that contained octocrylene had met the TGA’s “stringent requirements”.

“There is overwhelming evidence that sunscreens approved for use in Australia by the TGA are safe to use and are effective in preventing skin cancer,” Dr Sinclair said.

“We know that each year around 2000 Australians die of skin cancer, which is why it’s important for Australians to continue to use all five forms of sun protection when UV levels are 3 or above – slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on sunglasses.”, 17 August 2021