Sunscreens protect us, but do they harm the marine environment?
Now that the good weather is here and summer is approaching, everyone is ready to go to the beach to face the high temperatures. It is at this time of year when some products are used more frequently, as is the case with sun creams. These protect us from the sun’s rays, preventing sunburn and even helping to care for our skin. But not all sun creams are the same, so it is important to know which product we are going to use.
Usually, the most suitable brands are chosen according to the needs of each person. However, when deciding which brand to choose, it is also very important to look at its composition, as some contain chemical compounds that may have an environmental impact. In other words, there is a wide variety of sun creams that can be more or less respectful of the marine environment.
Sun creams are part of the emerging pollutants, a wide group of pollutants that can have harmful effects on human health and the environment, but which so far have been unknown. For this reason, they have not yet been studied enough and are outside the scope of environmental legislation. Even so, their presence in natural environments is not necessarily new.
But why are they considered emerging pollutants and how can they cause environmental problems?
When sunscreen is applied and comes into contact with water, some of the cream is released from the skin. Approximately 25% of the chemical components that make up the creams are released into the environment. Recently, it has been calculated that, on a beach with a capacity of around 3,000 people, about 68 kg of cream could be deposited per day, the equivalent of about 2.2 T during the summer. More details can be found in this study.
Of the components listed, titanium dioxide (TiO2) and oxybenzone stand out, which are released in significant quantities and have a high potential to harm marine life. The harmful effects affect a wide variety of marine fauna and flora, and chemical compounds from sunscreens have even been detected at different levels of the food chain, and can reach humans as in the case of microplastics.
In the Mediterranean, a recent study has detected how compounds derived from sunscreen are accumulating in Neptune seagrasses. Although the real impact of this is not yet known, it could be affecting the photosynthetic activity and productivity of this marine plant and, consequently, the entire marine ecosystem of the Mediterranean.
Therefore, when we go to the beach it is important to be aware of all the possible effects associated with the use of this type of products and try to choose those that are more environmentally friendly, or if the situation allows it, to reduce their use. Some of the actions that can be taken to minimise their use would be, for example, to protect the body with appropriate clothing, wear a cap, seek shade, carry a parasol or avoid the hours with the most sunlight.
It should not be forgotten that this is an emerging pollutant for which all the possible adverse effects associated with its use are currently unknown. Therefore, the sooner action is taken, the lesser the impact will be.