Sunscreen: Necessity or Nuisance?

May 3, 2017

Credit AP Photo / Chris Carlson

Beach weather approaches but don’t reach for that sunscreen just yet. An Amherst County scientist found that a common ingredient in sunscreen may be killing all kinds of marine life and poses a risk to humans as well.

Your sunscreen may be killing coral reef. 

This, according to studies headed by forensic toxicologist Craig Downs of Clifford, Virginia.

Working off sunscreen-slick beaches of Hawaii and the Virgin Islands, he and his team found that oxybenzone – the active ingredient in hundreds of sunscreens – is fatally toxic to coral. 

“Oxybenzone is an endocrine disruptor,” says Downs. “It acts like an estrogen and anti-testosterone chemical. It will cause male fish to gain female attributes such as producing egg proteins.” 

Hawaii lawmakers have gone so far as to propose a ban of oxybenzone sunscreens. Downs says the substance can be toxic to humans as well

“The concentration of oxybenzone is so high in some outdoor swimming pools,” he says. “And you can readily absorb it through your skin.”

He recommends mineral sunscreens or sun protective clothing instead.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from theVirginia Education Association.