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Oxybenzone a Potential Phototoxin

by Georgia Collings

A new study has been released showing that common sunscreen ingredient Oxybenzone can be converted from UV ray blocker to potent phototoxin.

D Vuckovic et al. discovered through experiments on sea anemones and coral that when exposed to oxybenzone and sunlight, the anemones and coral became highly photosensitive. This means they had an extreme sensitivity to sunlight, and light actually damages their cells – essentially, a phototoxin is a chemical that becomes toxic when exposed to sunlight.

This can begin to explain why chemical sunscreens containing ingredients such as oxybenzone are so damaging to coral reefs. Runoff from chemical sunscreen has been known to harm sea flora and fauna and bleach coral. In fact, the impact of these chemicals causing photosensitivity is so great that many places such as some Hawaiian Islands, areas of Florida and Thailand and places in Mexico have all banned chemical sunscreens, to prevent swimmers and their sunscreen causing irreparable damage to the reefs they’re enjoying.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science explainedIn the anemone, symbiont algae sequester most of this phototoxin, but removing the protective algae—as is the case with coral “bleached” by warming oceans—allowed the phototoxin to accumulate and cause damage.”

This means that coral already damaged by climate change is at huge risk when exposed to a phototoxin such as Oxybenzone. Essentially, this new research reveals that very few chemical sunscreens are in fact “reef safe”.

This study could be key to helping guide the manufacturing and sale of safe sunscreen. As guided by the regulations in place in destinations like Hawaii, physical or mineral sunscreens, such as those with active ingredients like zinc oxide, may be the better choice.

Additionally, the FDA sunscreen safety review, published 24/09/2021, has confirmed zinc oxide to be the only broad-spectrum UV Filter considered safe and effective, whilst 12 other UV Filters have been identified as potentially toxic and/or carcinogenic, including: Octinoxate, Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, Octisalate, Octocrylene & Homosalate.

The researchers argue that, in a warming climate, oxybenzone-containing sunscreens could accelerate damage to coral reefs and hinder their recovery.”

As a result, it is likely best to choose a sunscreen made from UV-blocking zinc oxide, which is a mineral naturally occurring in almost every cell of the human body. Its regenerative powers also come with anti-acne, wound healing and cell restoring benefits.

Vuckovic’s study has shown why and how chemical sunscreens are damaging our reefs. Oxybenzone literally makes coral “allergic” to sunlight. It’s time to make the switch to something safer for our oceans.

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