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Sunscreen and its Chemicals

Updated: Jun 18, 2021

Approximately 14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans each year...about 80 percent of corals in the Caribbean alone have been lost in the last 50 years due to pollution. (Zachos and Rosen). Chemicals are one of the six major pollutants affecting the oceans, and sunscreen has many. Coral is one of the many ocean creatures that are directly affected by the chemicals found in sunscreen and other self-care products. To save the oceans these chemicals need to be removed from all self-care products.

The effects of sunscreen have been studied repeatedly by hundreds of marine scientists. Their research has boiled down to many different chemicals, but one major player is Oxybenzone. NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) National Center for Coastal Ocean Science’s Research team discovered even low concentrations of chemicals like oxybenzone (for this example, This study found it to be Benzophenone-2) can quickly kill juvenile corals. Places with high populations in the water at once, like Whitehaven Beach in Australia, can be seen with oil slicks on top of the water when the population is at its lowest. Ocean Conservancy has stated, “oxybenzone starts causing serious damage to coral at low concentrations as low as the equivalent of one drop of water in six and a half Olympic-sized swimming pools .”Oil slicks choke out our marine ecosystems, and this is why we must change our ways of living.

All life started from the oceans, and most places still rely on the oceans for food, with most diets consisting of seafood. Senator Linda Stewart has stated " The Studies found that "Octinoxate exposure affects many biological processes" in certain fish species. Octinoxate exposure can impair neurological and reproductive abilities and disrupts hormones. NOAA has also stated, “Sunscreen can cause infertility and hormonal changes in fish seeing a male turn female.” If sunscreen can affect a fish’s hormonal balance, what could it do to humans? Unfortunately, there is not much information on this topic other than a few sites stating the chemicals are absorbed then detected in urine.

However, the effects of the chemical don’t just stop there. Mussels are affected by the chemicals found in sunscreen as well. Most creatures like Mussels and clams are highly susceptible to change. Many scientists use them as the first sign of an ecosystem changing, and that’s what this high school student did. Madison Toonder found “the nanoparticles in the zinc oxide did hurt the oysters, reducing their ability to filter water; the water became cloudier…While the algae and phytoplankton were digested and excreted, the nanoparticles of zinc oxide remained in the system longer than the food.” Therefore, she concludes that “The nanoparticles remained in the oyster’s digestive tract and prevented filtration at capacity.” Which in turn caused the oysters to die.

Everything is affected by sunscreen, from corals to mussels and even shrimp! Yes Shrimp. One research paper stated that shrimp is affected by sunscreen chemicals. The lack of knowledge is caused by shrimp’s ability to detect the chemicals and avoid them. However, when shrimp do come in contact with the sunscreen, it causes Homogenization, which might increase viscosity, reducing the shrimp’s motility. Essentially that means causing the cells to become uniform resisting flow of fluids, causing them to lose mobility. Homogenisis also causes the cells to break down and die, causing the shrimp to die.

Everything is affected by the chemicals found in Sunscreen, from the smallest phytoplankton to the enormous whale. To stop sunscreen and other self-care products from choking out Earth’s precious ecosystems, beach goers can opt-out of sunscreen altogether and use things like hats and UV clothing to protect both the people and the planet. Also making eco-conscious decisions when out shopping, avoiding anything on the table below. Stream2Sea is so far the best brand for ocean/ reef safe sunscreen making products without any microplastics or harmful chemicals. Humans are slowly killing the oceans and making eco-conscious decisions is the first step in saving it

Works Cited

Araújo, Cristiano V.M., et al. “Repellency and Mortality Effects of Sunscreens on the Shrimp Palaemon Varians: Toxicity Dependent on Exposure Method.” Chemosphere, Pergamon, 25 May 2020,

Biodiversity, Voices for. “Is Your Sunscreen Hurting Oysters? Probably.” National Geographic Society Newsroom, National Geographic, 14 Dec. 2017,

Guest Blogger Author, et al. “Is Your Sunscreen Killing the Coral Reef?” Ocean Conservancy, 18 Dec. 2018,

“Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, Octinoxate ... Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid.” Stream2Sea.Com, 29 Jan. 2021,

Rinkesh A dedicated environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars another habitat. “Causes, Effects, and Solutions to Ocean Pollution That Could Save Our Planet.” Conserve Energy Future, 17 July 2020,

Rosen, Elaina Zachos, and Eric. “What Sunscreens Are Best for You-and the Planet?” Travel, National Geographic, 21 May 2019,

This Is, This Is Glamorous. “Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreens, Your Skin & the Environment.” This Is Glamorous, 30 Sept. 2020,

US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic, and Atmospheric Administration. “Sunscreen Chemicals and Coral Reefs.” Skincare Chemicals and Marine Life, NOAA, 1 Nov. 2018,

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