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Environmental connections to public health >>

Sunscreen Ingredient is Toxic to Coral Reefs

Thursday, October 22, 2015


New evidence shows that a sunscreen ingredient EWG has long urged people to avoid is damaging to coral reefs. A study published [Oct. 20] in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found that even a tiny amount of oxybenzone, a common ingredient meant to block harmful ultraviolet radiation, can harm or kill corals by damaging the DNA in both mature and larval coral organisms.

Oxybenzone has also been shown to cause skin allergies in people and linked to hormone disruption based on animal studies. Despite these concerns, it is still widely used by sunscreen manufacturers. In EWG’s 2015 Guide to Sunscreens, about half the products on the market used this ingredient.

Another report published in the journal Environment International earlier this year highlighted the expected growth of coastal tourism. In light of this surge and the associated increase in sunscreen use, the new findings linking oxybenzone to coral degradation is even more disturbing.

With temperatures falling, we’re definitely not hitting the beach and slathering on sunscreen quite as much as a couple months ago, unless we’re heading south to warmer climates. However, oxybenzone is also in many daily-wear moisturizing products with SPF (sun protection factor) ratings. Whenever we take a shower or wash off these products, oxybenzone enters the wastewater stream and, ultimately, the oceans.

Given the potential environmental and health hazards associated with this ingredient (and many others used in personal care products), it’s important for consumers to read product labels carefully and avoid worrisome ingredients such as oxybenzone.

When you’re shopping for sun protection products, use EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens to find safer and more effective sunscreens and SPF moisturizers. Opt for products with mineral active ingredients, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and practice other sun-safety measures, such as staying in the shade, avoiding sun exposure during peak hours and wearing protective clothing.


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