The Global Fool

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Do Sunscreen Products Harm the Coastal Marine Ecosystem?

By The Editors

When new products based on mixtures of several chemicals become widely used, and the use of these products increases exponentially, it is reasonable to expect some sort of environmental impact, at least on specific ecosystems. Therefore, the recent finding that sunscreen products may cause deleterious effects in the coastal ecosystem is not surprising. Sunscreen products contain organic and/or inorganic UV chemical filters, as well as a variety of other ingredients, as for example preservatives, coloring agents and fragrances. What is surprising, however, is that this potential environmental problem has not been given the attention it deserves – until this year.

Findings on the effects of sunscreen products on the coastal ecosystem have been published in June in the scientific journal PLOSone. The study (Sunscreen products as emerging pollutants to coastal waters) has been carried out by a team of investigators based in Spain. Antonio Tovar-Sánchez (Department of Global Change Research, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies, Esporles, Balearic Island, Spain) and collaborators evaluated the potential effects of commercial sunscreens released in nearshore waters by beachgoers.

During August-September 2011 the researchers sampled surface nearshore waters of three beaches around Majorca Island and conducted laboratories studies to evaluate the presence of chemicals released from sunscreens in coastal seawater and its effect on the marine phytoplankton. Results from the study show that sunscreen products are a significant source of organic and inorganic chemicals that reach the sea with potential ecological consequences on the coastal marine ecosystem, inhibiting the growth of some species of marine phytoplankton or adding essential micronutrients that may stimulate the growth of others.

The investigators do not discuss the long-term effects of coastal seawater contamination by chemicals contained in sunscreen products – for example, will the effects of contamination occurring mostly during the Summer months persist during the Winter? It’s clear that at least a year-long analysis is necessary to truly understand the long-term impact of sunscreen products on marine phytoplankton. However, it is important to be aware that even seemingly harmless actions, in this case using sunscreen products, may results in deleterious effects on the environment.

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Author: theglobalfool

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6 Comments

  1. Back in 2007, Roberto Danovaro and his colleagues released a journal article titled Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections, talking about the issue of sunscreen contamination impact of coral reefs, and how they are killing coral reefs worldwide (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2291018/). They report about viruses, called zooxanthellae that live in a symbiotic relationship with the algae. When exposed to even the smallest concentration of chemicals in the sun screen they are hyper-stimulated. Once the infection process has started, it then becomes a cascade effect of infection. This means that even the smallest amount of toxin from sun screen can be significant enough to create coral destruction.

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  2. What people do not realize is that many of these sun screens contain retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone. These two toxins can cause cellular damage and develop into cancer, not only in the skin but in other tissue organs (http://www.ewg.org/2013sunscreen/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/). Also there are certain sunscreens that have metal oxides that are present in the sunscreen as a way to reflect the sun from the skin. This may have impacting effects not only on the accumulation toxicity levels in the human body, but also can contribute to significant amount of metal oxides found in the waters of popular tourist destinations.
    If people are interested in taking care of their skin, they should be aware that the SPF numbers do not correlate accordingly with the amount of protection being received. According to a CNN report, studies show that sunscreen with SPF 15 can block about 93% of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 blocks 97%. SPF 50 blocks 98% (http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/16/health/sunscreen-report/index.html?iref=allsearch).While the sunscreens become more expensive with an increase numeral of SPF, sun protection does not. Protective factors plateau after SPF 15.
    There is another alternative to the sun screen products which is Coconut oil. This form of sun protection has been used by indigenous people all around the pacific. This form of skin protection strengthens, rejuvenates the skin, and if there were any mutagenic effects wise men would reference the deformities much like the goats of the Island of Bikini.

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  3. I find your comment very interesting and true. I like many other people am highly allergic to certain ingredients in SPF. I get severe blister by the use of it. Imagine what effect it might be having on marine life. We as human being really forget sometimes that our actions might consequences for other creatures. As you said it is truly a catch 22. Protecting ourselves can lead to harm to marine life. And it is only recently that we are started to research SPF effect on marine and with more research we might find that it is even more harmful then we belivee it to be.

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  4. There is a point in the previous comment, and I agree with it. However, there is also another point that I would like to make: it’s not just protect ourselves or protect the environment, it’s also that while we protect ourselves from the sun, we may harm ourselves because of the toxicity of some of the substances in the sunscreens that we take in through our skin.

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  5. Unfortunately, we often think of ourselves as the supreme species and forget that chemicals that cause us harm also cause other species and ecosystems harm as well. When it comes to sunscreen, it is all the craze these days to use sunscreen as a part of a daily routine. However, what is in that sunscreen? A study in Switzerland observed the affects of 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, or 4-MBC, a potential a endocrine disrupter. They found the chemical to show affects in birth weight and survival rate in rat studies, yet 4-MBC is not yet approved as an active ingredient in the United States. However, the Environmental Working Group has found the potential hazard listed in three sunscreens as an “inactive” ingredient (and also in a handful of men’s deodorants). An Italian study of oxybenzone, octinoxate, and a preservative butylparaben cause viral infections in algae, which in turn affect coral health through their mutualistic relationship. As a result, corals are bleaching out and dying. (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/the_green_lantern/2009/05/staying_green_in_the_sun.2.html)
    While these are just two examples, they provide a glimpse of the harm the ingredients of sunscreen and ANY hygienic product can cause. In the end, it seems we’re simply in a catch 22… Protect ourselves from the adverse affects of the sun or practice conservative efforts to protect our environment.

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    • I find your comment very interesting and true. I like many other people am highly allergic to certain ingredients in SPF. I get severe blister by the use of it. Imagine what effect it might be having on marine life. We as human being really forget sometimes that our actions might consequences for other creatures. As you said it is truly a catch 22. Protecting ourselves can lead to harm to marine life. And it is only recently that we are started to research SPF effect on marine and with more research we might find that it is even more harmful then we belivee it to be.

      Post a Reply

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