You may have read that sunscreens can damage coral in such news stories as “Sunscreen Killing off Coral” by National Geographic and “Sunscreen Wipes Out Corals” by NatureNews. These and all other reports of the sunscreen/coral connection were based on one prominent scientific study by Roberto Danovaro and his colleagues at the Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona, Italy. Their paper, Sunscreens Cause Coral Bleaching by Promoting Viral Infections, was published in the peer reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2008.
Each year between 4000-6000 metric tons (4400-6600 US tons) of sunscreen washes off swimmers and snorkelers into coral reef environments. Four common sunscreen ingredients were shown to cause complete coral bleaching at very low concentrations.
AVOID THE 4 REEF-HARMFUL SUNSCREEN INGREDIENTS:
- Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3) – Sunscreen with several suspected human health effects.
- Butylparaben – Preservative with several suspected human health effects.
- Octinoxate (Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate) – Sunscreen with several suspected human health effects.
- 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4MBC) – Sunscreen with several suspected human health effects. Allowed in Europe and Canada, not in USA or Japan.
Up to 10% of the world’s coral reefs may be threatened by sunscreen induced coral bleaching.
Other factors such as global warming, pollution, and human activities are likely a far greater threat to coral reefs than sunscreens. However, that is not a reason to ignore the results of this research. There has been limited criticism of this study but it is good peer-reviewed science, and the results should be taken seriously.