Sunscreen Products as Emerging Pollutants to Coastal Waters

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Sunscreen Products as Emerging Pollutants to Coastal Waters

  • Antonio Tovar-Sanchez1
  • David Sánchez-Quiles
  • Gotzon Basterretxea
  • Juan L. Benedé
  • Alberto Chisvert
  • Amparo Salvador
  • Ignacio Moreno-Garrido
  • Julián Blasco
Published Article
Public Library of Science
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065451


A growing awareness of the risks associated with skin exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation over the past decades has led to increased use of sunscreen cosmetic products leading the introduction of new chemical compounds in the marine environment. Although coastal tourism and recreation are the largest and most rapidly growing activities in the world, the evaluation of sunscreen as source of chemicals to the coastal marine system has not been addressed. Concentrations of chemical UV filters included in the formulation of sunscreens, such as benzophehone 3 (BZ-3), 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC), TiO 2 and ZnO, are detected in nearshore waters with variable concentrations along the day and mainly concentrated in the surface microlayer (i.e. 53.6–577.5 ng L -1 BZ-3; 51.4–113.4 ng L -1 4-MBC; 6.9–37.6 mg L -1 Ti; 1.0–3.3 mg L -1 Zn). The presence of these compounds in seawater suggests relevant effects on phytoplankton. Indeed, we provide evidences of the negative effect of sunblocks on the growth of the commonly found marine diatom Chaetoceros gracilis (mean EC 50 = 125671 mg L -1). Dissolution of sunscreens in seawater also releases inorganic nutrients (N, P and Si forms) that can fuel algal growth. In particular, PO 4 32 is released by these products in notable amounts (up to 17 mmol PO 4 32 g 21). We conservatively estimate an increase of up to 100% background PO 4 32 concentrations (0.12 mmol L -1 over a background level of 0.06 mmol L -1) in nearshore waters during low water renewal conditions in a populated beach in Majorca island. Our results show that sunscreen products are a significant source of organic and inorganic chemicals that reach the sea with potential ecological consequences on the coastal marine ecosystem. Copyright: ß 2013 Tovar-Sánchez et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Funding: This work was funded by the ISUMAR project (CTM2011-22645) and CONCORDA project (384/2011) of the Spanish Ministries of Economy and Competitiveness and of Agriculture, Food and Environment. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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