Sunscreen and cosmetics compound may harm coral by altering fatty acids

January 9, 2019, American Chemical Society
Sunscreen and cosmetics compound may harm coral by altering fatty acids
Credit: American Chemical Society

Although sunscreen is critical for preventing sunburns and skin cancer, some of its ingredients are not so beneficial to ocean-dwelling creatures. In particular, sunscreen chemicals shed by swimmers are thought to contribute to coral reef decline. Now, researchers reporting in ACS' journal Analytical Chemistry say that one such chemical, octocrylene (OC), which is also in some cosmetics and hair products, accumulates in coral as fatty acid esters that could be toxic to the marine organism.

According to several research studies, up to 14,000 tons of end up in the world's oceans every year. To protect , the state of Hawaii recently banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals known to harm coral, with the law set to take effect in January 2021. Another substance, OC, can be found in cosmetics such as hair sprays and conditioners, as well as sunscreens. Although OC is toxic to coral at high concentrations, Didier Stien, Philippe Lebaron and colleagues wondered how it would affect coral at levels more likely to be encountered in the environment.

To find out, the researchers exposed coral to OC at various concentrations for a week. They found that the coral was sensitive to the compound at concentrations of 50 micrograms per liter and greater, which is about 10 times higher than levels measured in the ocean. OC accumulated in the coral as fatty acid conjugates, which may interfere with the organism's metabolism. The team also detected increased levels of acylcarnitines in the exposed corals, which are produced under conditions of abnormal fatty acid metabolism and mitochondrial dysfunction. The researchers say that levels of OC in the ocean might have been underestimated previously because these measurements did not take into account OC fatty esters.

Explore further: Palau plans sunscreen ban to save coral

More information: Didier Stien et al. Metabolomics Reveal That Octocrylene Accumulates in Pocillopora damicornis Tissues as Fatty Acid Conjugates and Triggers Coral Cell Mitochondrial Dysfunction, Analytical Chemistry (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.8b04187

Related Stories

Palau plans sunscreen ban to save coral

November 1, 2018

The tiny Pacific island nation of Palau will ban "reef-toxic" sunscreens from 2020 in what it claims is a world-first initiative to stop chemical pollution killing its famed corals.

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...

The taming of the light screw

March 22, 2019

DESY and MPSD scientists have created high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might ...

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.