"Protect Coral Reefs" by NOAA's National Ocean Service is licensed under CC BY 2.0

South Pacific Island Nation First Country to Ban Environmentally Harmful Sunscreens

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
"Protect Coral Reefs" by NOAA's National Ocean Service is licensed under CC BY 2.0Ariel Kushmaro and Esti Kramarsky-Winter
Department of Biotechnology Engineering, Ben Gurion University
Beer Sheva, Israel

The Republic of Palau, a South Pacific island nation, became the world’s first country to ban sunscreen products containing environmentally harmful ingredients

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this announcement? What are the main findings? 

Response: Coral reefs are important ecosystems that are under threat due to global human driven climate change. In addition to global changes, local hazards such as point pollution by eutrophication, dredging and chemical pollution are exacerbating and promoting reef destruction at local levels. This destruction affects not only island nations that depend on these reefs for protection and livelihood, they affect humanity as a whole as they are an important source for food and novel drugs and new materials.

Our recent studies have shown that chemicals found in most commercial sunscreens and creams used to protect humans from deleterious effects of UV A and UVB wash off into the environment are persistent, have endocrine disruptive effects, and thus deleteriously affect marine organisms including corals. 

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main chemicals in sunscreens that are injurious to coral reefs? 

Response: The main chemicals that are deleterious include Benzophenone-3 Benzophenone-4, (oxybenzones),Homosalate,, Avobenzone, Octy-Methoxycinnamate, PABA.

These affect the reefs and human health as well.

MedicalResearch.com: Are there alternative sunscreens that are safer for the environment?

Response: There are alternatives that do not contain these chemicals and instead contain (non-nano) titanium oxide, or zinc oxide. These mineral based chemicals have not been show to have endocrine disruptive effect as do the organic chemicals sunscreens. Zinc oxide is a common ingredient in baby-paste 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Readers should first of all stop using the sunscreens containing these chemicals, as there are enough options without them. Also the best overall protection is covering up using SPF screening clothing, and using mineral sunscreens on face neck and other areas not covered. In addition it is important note that since many of these chemicals are also found in facial creams these should also be checked before use.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Additional studies should assess levels of these chemicals from our marine coasts, as well as from of our lakes, rivers, wells and springs. Furthermore the effects of these chemicals should be studied further for their effects on additional organisms including on human health (as they have been detected in human milk and urine).

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Recent studies have shown that these chemicals have deleterious effects on human health. These chemicals were found in human urine of over 90% of Americans tested. It passes the placenta and is found in human milk.


  1. A. Downs*, E. Kramarsky-Winter, J. E. Fauth, R. Segal, O. Bronstein, R. Jeger, Y. Lichtenfeld, C. M. Woodley, P. Pennington, F. Al-Horani, A. Kushmaro and Y. Loya .2014. Toxicological effects of the sunscreen UV filter, benzophenone-2, on planula and in vitro cells of the coral, Stylophora pistillata. Ecotoxicology 23: 175-191

C.A. Downs*, E. Kramarsky-Winter, R. Segal, J. Fauth, S. Knutson, O. Bronstein, F. R. Ciner, R. Jeger, Y. Lichtenfeld, C. M. Woodley, P. Pennington, A. Kushmaro, Y. Loya. 2015. Toxicological effects of the sunscreen UV filter, oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), to planula and cultured primary cells from the coral, Stylophora pistillata, and its environmental contamination on coral reefs. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology (doi: 10.​1007/​s00244-015-0227-7, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00244-015-0227-7).

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Last Updated on November 9, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD