Is sun protection bad for the environment

Skin-friendly, but harmful to the environment

The chemical UV filters octinoxate and oxybenzone, which are to be banned in Hawaii, are particularly problematic. "These chemicals can now be found everywhere in nature, from the Arctic to remote coral reefs in the South Pacific," said Craig Downs from the Haereticus environmental laboratory in Virginia of the dpa news agency. One possible consequence is damage to the genetic make-up of fish and corals. But mineral filters such as zinc oxide can also lead to coral bleaching, depending on their formulation, as Italian researchers report in the specialist magazine "Science of The Total Environment" (DOI: 10.1016 / j.scitotenv.2018.05.108). As nanoparticles, they can be absorbed by the corals.

14,000 tons per year

It is estimated that around 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in the sea every year. Where a particularly large number of tourists go swimming, like in Hawaii with around nine million visitors annually, the damage in the sea is particularly evident, reports dpa. "My prediction is that there will soon be no more living coral reefs in Hawaii for tourists to visit," says Downs.

In Germany, too, UV filters from sun creams can be found in bodies of water, for example in the Baltic Sea, as measurements near the beach by the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research showed in 2015 ("Marine Pollution Bulletin", DOI: 10.1016 / j.marpolbul.2017.07.057 ). "The concentrations of chemical UV filters that are measured in German waters are so far that no fish is acutely life-threatened," explained Jürgen Arning from the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) to dpa. However, there is no comprehensive monitoring of water bodies with a view to UV filters.

For example, the US brands Tropic-Sport and Raw Elements are considered reef-safe. Hawaii tourists even receive a sample of the latter from Hawaiian airlines on arrival. It only contains non-nano zinc oxide as an active ingredient. Oxybenzone is rarely used in European products, but the chemical filter octocrylene, which is currently the most frequently used, has also come under fire.

Are there environmentally friendly alternatives in Germany? At the request of the PZ, the UBA cannot name any. Unfortunately, there are no regulatory requirements for the environmental assessment of cosmetics. "This means that we are generally unable to make any statements about the environmental risk of the components that get into the environment from cosmetics and, in particular, from sunscreens," according to the UBA. Even the latest test report by Stiftung Warentest (box) does not help environmentally conscious users. The environmental impact did not play a role in the assessment in the current issue.

Expert advice

Professor Dr. Rolf Daniels, pharmaceutical technologist at the University of Tübingen, thinks the situation is difficult. He assumes that there will be more and more bans on certain UV filters for environmental reasons. "Then the manufacturers will react and advertise it accordingly," Daniels is certain. At present, sunscreens are not necessarily tested for environmental compatibility in the EU. The technologist emphasizes that the formulations are safe for humans.

So what do you do for the sake of your skin and the environment? "The good old zinc paste is harmless to people and the environment, but consumers don't want that, because you look white without nano-formulation." Daniels recommends waterproof products or, better still, extra waterproof products and a time interval between creaming and bathing. "With waterproof sunscreen, a polymer film forms on the skin when it dries, which fixes the UV filter on the skin for longer," explains the pharmacist. "Many products now have UV protection immediately, but you should wait 20 to 30 minutes before bathing to ensure that the film lasts." Even better for the environment: textiles with high UV protection. If you want to snorkel, you should wear a neoprene or lycra suit instead of sun protection. /