Sunscreens may be harmful to the marine ecosystem

  • A CSIC research has analyzed the impact of these sun creams on the Mediterranean coast


  • During bathing, the products released into the sea amounts of various chemical compounds


  • Waste influence phytoplankton productivity and can be toxic to marine life

Madrid, 11th July 2013. Despite being designed to remain attached to the body, some sunscreens components are diluted in the bath and become pollutants. A research paper by the National Research Council (CSIC) reveals these products releases a significant amount of its components to the sea, which have ecological consequences on marine coastal ecosystem.

The work, which also involved the University of Valencia and has been published in the journal PLoS ONE, analyzed the impact of sunscreens on marine ecosystems in coastal waters of the island of Mallorca. CSIC researcher at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (CSIC joint center and the University of the Balearic Islands) Antonio Tovar explains: "Sunscreens may have a significant environmental impact in areas of intense tourist activity."



The analyzes carried out during the study indicate the presence of compounds from these cosmetics, mainly located in the surface microlayer of seawater. The highest concentrations of these chemicals are between 14.00 hours and 18.00 hours, a few hours after the occurrence of the peak of swimmers as a result of a cumulative process of these substances.

During this period, the level of these chemicals can be between 60% and 90% higher than the observed values ??at night and early in the morning. Tovar noted that "these experiments show that some of these products have toxic effects on marine phytoplankton, crustaceans, algae and fish." According to the CSIC researcher, "such harmful effects could extend to other ecosystem components such as marine plants, crustaceans, algae and fish."

Analysis of more than a dozen commercial sunscreens demonstrates also that in addition to the chemicals, sunscreens also release other elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and silicon. These compounds can act as nutrients and stimulate the growth of algae communities. Tovar indicates that "this effect, although it does not seem harmful a priori, alters the dynamics of the ecosystem."


Bibliographic Ref.: Antonio Tovar-Sánchez, David Sánchez-Quiles, Gotzon Basterretxea, Juan L. Benedé, Alberto Chisvert, Amparo Salvador, Ignacio Moreno, Julián Blasco. Sunscreen products as emerging pollutants to coastal waters. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065451

Source: IMEDEA & CSIC Communication. Transalated with Google translate.