Out of the many harmful sunscreen ingredients found in over-the-counter sunscreens, oxybenzone deserves a special mention on its own for its particularly notorious damage on coral reefs.
What is Oxybenzone?Oxybenzone — also called benzophenone-3 and sometimes Milestab 9, Eusolex 4360, Escalol 567, or KAHSCREEN BZ-3 — is a chemical compound that functions as the active ingredient in the majority of over-the-counter sunscreens and many other personal care products and skincare products. It’s a UV-ray blocker that is very effective in slowing the absorption of harmful UVA and UVB rays by the human skin.
How does it harm coral?
- Several studies have shown that oxybenzone directly contributes to coral bleaching. If that weren’t enough, it also damages DNA of young coral reefs and disrupts their normal growth and development. This inhibits their ability to reproduce healthily and causes physical deformities that make them even more susceptible to coral bleaching — and even death.
- Chemical sunscreens, overall, have been found to cause viral infection and starvation in corals.
- Oxybenzone is equally toxic to other marine wildlife species, such as fish, as it is to coral. Certain experts think that its toxicity occurs at a concentration of 62 parts per trillion.
That’s one drop of water in 6.5 Olympic-sized swimming pools!
- As a result, Hawaii has wisely moved to ban sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, a move that was then followed by the Pacific Island nation of Palau. Since then, other places like the Aruba and the city of Key Westhave followed suit.
How does it reach the ocean?Oxybenzone can reach the ocean in the most obvious way…
- It can directly enter the ocean when vacationers, swimmers, surfers, etc. use a toxic sunscreen while in the water.
- After being applied topically, oxybenzone is absorbed through the skin and excreted through urine, which flows into wastewater systems that eventually reach the ocean. The same happens for any oxybenzone that washes off skin as residue in a bath or shower.
TOXICITY OCCURS AT A CONCENTRATION OF 62 PARTS PER TRILLION
...that's one drop of water in 6.5 Olympic-sized swimming pools