Sunscreen chemicals in water may harm fish embryos

August 1, 2018, American Chemical Society
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

For most people, a trip to the beach involves slathering on a thick layer of sunscreen to protect against sunburn and skin cancer. However, savvy beachgoers know to reapply sunscreen every few hours because it eventually washes off. Now researchers, reporting in ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology, have detected high levels of sunscreen chemicals in the waters of Shenzhen, China, and they also show that the products can affect zebrafish embryo development.

A painful sunburn can ruin a vacation, and too much sun can also lead to more serious problems like premature skin aging and melanoma. Therefore, manufacturers have added ultraviolet (UV) filters to many , including sunscreens, moisturizers and makeup. Scientists have detected these substances in the environment, but most studies have concluded that individual chemicals are not present at high-enough levels to harm people or animals. Kelvin Sze-Yin Leung wondered if combinations of UV filters may be more harmful than individual compounds, and whether these chemicals could have long-term effects that previous studies hadn't considered.

Leung and his team began by analyzing the levels of nine common UV filters in surface waters of Shenzhen, China —- a rapidly growing city with more than 20 popular recreational beaches. They found seven of the nine chemicals in Shenzhen waters, including public beaches, a harbor and, surprisingly, a reservoir and tap . Next, the researchers moved to the lab where they fed zebrafish, a common model organism, brine shrimp that had been exposed to three of the most prevalent chemicals, alone or in mixtures. Although the adult fish had no visible problems, their offspring showed abnormalities. These outcomes were mostly observed for longer-term exposures (47 days) and elevated levels of the chemicals (higher than what is likely to occur in the environment.) The effects of different UV filters and mixtures of these substances varied in often-unpredictable ways, suggesting that further studies are needed to determine how these chemicals impact living systems.

Explore further: Sunscreen reduces melanoma risk by 40 per cent in young people

More information: "Joint Effects of Multiple UV Filters on Zebrafish Embryo Development" Environmental Science & Technology (2018). pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.8b02418

Related Stories

Advice for sunscreen skeptics

July 30, 2018

There's a reasonable approach to sunscreen use—even for those who are skeptical about its safety, says a University of Alberta dermatologist.

Strategies to avoid sunburn

June 15, 2018

(HealthDay)—If you could protect yourself from cancer, you'd do it, right? Yet most Americans still aren't taking the easiest step to prevent the most commonly diagnosed type—skin cancer, which will affect one in five ...

Smart steps for sun protection

July 17, 2017

(HealthDay)—You know you're supposed to slather on a high-SPF sunscreen before going out in the sun, but these five steps will help you double up on that protection.

Time to revisit sun protection for the whole family

May 25, 2017

Spring sunshine is finally here, and summer is fast approaching. As adults and kids gear up for beach vacations, outdoor play and dining alfresco, it's a good time to revisit sun protection for the whole family.

Recommended for you

Inert nitrogen forced to react with itself

March 21, 2019

Constituting over 78 % of the air we breathe, nitrogen is the element found the most often in its pure form on earth. The reason for the abundance of elemental nitrogen is the incredible stability and inertness of dinitrogen ...

Two-step path to shrinking worker bee gonads

March 21, 2019

The dramatic difference in gonad size between honey bee queens and their female workers in response to their distinct diets requires the switching on of a specific genetic program, according to a new study publishing March ...

Plant immunity cut to size

March 21, 2019

An international team based in Ghent, Belgium (VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology) and Basel, Switzerland (University of Basel), found a link between a class of enzymes and immune signals that is rapidly triggered ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.