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PLoS One. 2013 Jun 5;8(6):e65451. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0065451. Print 2013.

Sunscreen products as emerging pollutants to coastal waters.

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Department of Global Change Research, Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies-UIB-CSIC, Esporles, Balearic Island, Spain.


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), TiO₂ 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 µg L⁻¹ Ti; 1.0-3.3 µg 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 EC₅₀ = 125±71 mg L⁻¹). Dissolution of sunscreens in seawater also releases inorganic nutrients (N, P and Si forms) that can fuel algal growth. In particular, PO₄³⁻ is released by these products in notable amounts (up to 17 µmol PO₄³⁻g⁻¹). We conservatively estimate an increase of up to 100% background PO₄³⁻ concentrations (0.12 µmol L⁻¹ over a background level of 0.06 µmol 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.

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