Monday, April 1, 2013

Sunscreen and Coral Reef Bleaching

What is the issue?

In 2013, the American Cancer Society estimates that 12,650 people in the United States will die due to melanoma of the skin.  Every year, beachgoers around the world use countless bottles of sunscreen to shield themselves from the Sun's UV rays.  In the US alone, sunscreen sales are expected to reach  $1.8 billion by 2016.  Large corporations, aiming to capture market share, are constantly reformulating their products with new chemicals and technology.  Several recent studies have indicated that some of the compounds commonly used in today's sunscreens may have a large effect on coral reef bleaching throughout the world.  Coral reefs play a vital role in supporting life in and around the ocean by:
  • Providing a home for approximately 25 percent (25%) of marine species;
  • Protecting shorelines from erosion and storm surge;
  • Supporting fisheries;
  • Providing valuable tourist dollars for many areas; and
  • Are home to many compounds that may be used in the production of pharmaceutical and medical products

Bleached Coral Reef
Comparison of Health Coral with Bleached Coral
Because of the serious health concerns with UV radiation, many consumers often overlook the environmental effects of sunscreen use.  In 2008, a group of Italian scientists working for an organization known as Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) published a study (Click Here for a Link to the Study) detailing how common sunscreens are contributing to coral reef bleaching witnessed throughout the world.  The researchers took samples from coral reefs sites in the Red Sea, the Caribbean Sea, the Indian Ocean off the coast of Thailand, and the Pacific Ocean surrounding Indonesia.  From the study, the researchers determined that four compounds commonly found in commercial sunscreen were shown to illicit viral infections in Zooxanthellae, a type of symbiotic algae that is found inside healthy coral tissue that aids in the photosynthesis process.  These compounds included:
  • Paraben;
  • Cinnamate;
  • Benzophenone; and
  • Camphor derivatives
The methods used by the Italian scientists involved comparing coral samples submersed in seawater containing various concentrations of sunscreen with control samples submersed in normal seawater.  It was found that coral bleaching occurred sometimes within just a few hours, never taking more than four days to occur when exposed to sunscreen quantities as low as 10 μL/L.  The chemicals contained in the sunscreen caused viruses to replicate in the Zooxanthellae until their hosts exploded, which caused virus-containing seawater to be spread to surrounding areas.  The researchers estimated that in total up to 10 percent (10%) of the world's coral reefs are at risk to coral reef bleaching as a result of sunscreen pollution.  Areas with substantial tourism, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, are particularly at risk.

Scientists estimate that between 4,000 and 6,000 tons of sunscreen wash off of swimmers each year into the ocean.  The purpose of this blog is to educate consumers about the potentially dangerous consequences associated with sunscreen use so that they can make informed decisions about which brands of sunscreens they choose to purchase.  By reducing the sales of sunscreen brands containing harmful ingredients, consumers can use their purchasing power to affect the products that are produced and marketed by major sunscreen manufacturers.  Ultimately, the goal is to see complete phase-out of these compounds, and the elimination of the potential threat to coral reef ecosystems worldwide, so that these valuable resources can be preserved for future generations.



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hi Marcus, not sure this blog is still being updated, but just wanted to tell you its really great to see your initiative on this!
    Our company Swiss Ethical Skincare and their products Zilooa is doing everything possible in taking all chemicals out of creams and substituting for bio ingredients , we don't even have Zink in our sun creams. If you would like some samples of our sun creams, let me know! ,

  3. Whenever I read Your Post Allways got Something New
    Biohazard Products

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.