Use of appropriate sunscreen products is a common safety measure advocated to combat the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the body. But unauthorised sunscreen products may not protect users from the damaging effects of UV radiation, cautions the Philippines toxics watchdog group Ecowaste Coalition.

Their latest survey found unauthorised sales of sunscreens in the Philippines. One sample had no ingredients list, another has information written in Chinese characters only, so it’s hard to tell what are the ingredients used.


The group also found coral-reef damaging substances in 10 of 12 sunscreen samples bought, among them: oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), octinoxate (octyl methoxycinnamate, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate), octocrylene, 4-methyl-benzylidene camphor, and avobenzone (butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane).

Healthy coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. They provide billions of dollars in economic and environmental services, such as food, coastal protection, and tourism. However, coral ecosystems around the world face serious threats from a number of sources, including from some of the chemicals found in sunscreen and other personal health products.

According to the infographic prepared by the US National Ocean Service on “Sunscreen Chemicals and Marine Life”, some sunscreen ingredients can:

> accumulate in tissues and induce bleaching, damage DNA, deform young and even kill corals;
> impair growth and photosynthesis of green algae;
> induce defects in young mussels;
> decrease fish fertility and reproduction, and cause female characteristics in male fish;
> damage immune and reproductive systems, and deform young sea urchins; and
> can accumulate in the tissues of dolphins and be transferred to their offspring.

Some countries have taken action to protect coral reefs from these chemicals. The government of Palau has since January 2020 prohibited the entry, manufacture, importation and sale of reef-toxic sunscreens.

The state of Hawaii has also banned sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which took effect in January 2021. “A bill pending at their Senate would further ban avobenzone and octocrylene as ingredients in such products,” says the Ecowaste Coalition.

“Sun protection products that are meant to protect the skin from UV radiation should not pose health risks, as well as endanger the corals and the marine ecosystems as a whole,” the group says.