French study warns about dangerous chemicals in children's sunscreen

A child plays in the water on a beach in Fouesnant, western France.
A child plays in the water on a beach in Fouesnant, western France. AFP - FRED TANNEAU

On the eve of summer holidays, two French environmental groups have raised the alarm over dozens of sunscreens marketed for children – warning they contain dangerous substances that should be banned.  


NGOs Acting for the Environment and WECF France on Thursday published the results of a study that found 29 worrying ingredients present in sun creams, sprays and sun milk being sold in supermarkets and pharmacies.

Between March and June, 71 products were tested. Not one of them was deemed risk-free.

The problematic substances – endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, neotoxins, nanoparticles and allergens – were grouped into three categories: yellow for “of concern“, orange for “of high concern and should be avoided”, and red for “of very high concern and should be banned”.

Ten of the substances were classified red (seven of them also pose a recognised hazard to the aquatic environment) and seven were classified orange. More than half of the products tested contained a substance considered “very worrying”.

The NGOs are calling on the French Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health and Safety to step in and asses the risk-to-benefit ratio of using harmful substances to protect against sun damage.

“We are faced with a complicated choice: we want to protect our children from the sun and, on the other hand, we expose them to chemical risks,” the report says.

Major brands named

Of all the sunscreens tested, nine contained “a cocktail of at least 10 harmful substances”. They included products from the brands Vichy, Nivea, Mixa, Lovea Spray, Lancaster and Garnier. 

A further three products contained nanoparticles that were not mentioned on the label, including an organic sunscreen from the brand Biarritz. Overall, however, organic sunscreens were found to contain very few problematic substances.

Acting for the Environment and WECF say they would like to see France take strong action to protect children from endocrine disruptors by banning the substances which have been classified red, and by implementing what they called "deterrent action" for manufacturers. 

"Likewise, fragrances established as human allergens should no longer be authorised in products for children," they argued.

The sunscreens that raised the most red flags were Lancaster's Sun Kids Anti-Sand Comfort Cream SPF 50+, which contained 15 worrying ingredients, Mixa’s Brume Fine (fine mist) Solaire 50+ for children, and Isdin Pediatrics’ SPF 50+ Transparent Spray for Wet Skin.

In response to the study, the French Federation of Beauty Companies said it was surprised by the results, adding it stands by the safety of sunscreens being sold in France.

“These ingredients are all authorised in Europe … and we have the strictest regulation in the world,” a spokesperson said.

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