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Is your sunscreen doing more harm than good?

–Written by Shreiyashi Panjla

The earth’s atmosphere, blocks the harmful UV radiations of the sun, but most of it penetrates through it. The pronounced issue of the ozone layer depletion, moreover adds to the further thinning of our atmosphere’s natural protection from the sun’s harmful UV radiation. Which can cause redness, ageing, wrinkling and skin cancer in humans.

All of this accounts to an increasing and urgent need for sunscreens. Sunscreens have become a vital part in our daily lives. One never forgets to apply a coat of sunscreen before heading out. 

So, how do these sunscreens actually work? Sunscreens are of two types – Physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens work by deflecting UV rays, the most widely used compounds in physical sunscreens are titanium oxide and zinc dioxide. Whereas, chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays, the most common compound used in chemical sunscreens is oxybenzone.

But do we really know about the compounds used in these sunscreens? And are they even safe for living organisms? 

For the past few years, there has been an increasing concern about the health effects caused by sunscreens containing chemical compounds such as oxybenzone, the most widely used compound in sunscreens, as it effectively protects against UVA and UVB radiations, which are responsible for severe sunburns and skin cancer. Researchers have found conspicuous levels of oxybenzone in human blood and breast milk. According to some animal studies, which instill concern that oxybenzone can intervene with the normal functioning of various hormones, including estrogen. It is basically called a “potential hormone disruptor”. The report that initially turned on the alarm about oxybenzone was a study conducted in 2001, which observed that rats who fed on oxybenzone at a very high doze, experienced a twenty three percent increase in the size of their uterus.  A reproductive toxicology journal also suggests that pregnant women who use chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone daily, might absorb enough of this compound to increase the risk of birth defects. Children are more vulnerable to harm, from oxybenzone than adults due to the potential of higher adsorption. Furthermore, in the recent years, spray sunscreens have also become increasingly popular, which have increased danger, especially if inhaled.

The rainforests of the sea, the corals are the most diverse creatures of the marine ecosystem.  Coral reefs are skeletons of these invertebrates called corals. The Great Barrier Reef is the World’s largest and longest Coral reef group, it is one of the world’s great natural wonder.

 Corals have a magnificent array of shapes and colors. Coral reefs provide shelter and habitat to marine organisms, they provide essential nutrients for marine food chains and they protect coastlines from harmful effects of wave action. Coral reefs also find importance in our lives, such as providing food, protecting shorelines, medicines and a prospering the tourism industry.

Moreover, sunscreens are not only a threat to animals but to the marine life as well. These chemicals sunscreens find their way to the coastal waters either directly, as a consequence of washing off swimmer’s skin while they snorkel at the beach or indirectly from waste water treatment effluents. These sunscreens are one of the greatest threats to coral reefs worldwide which are causing coral bleaching, causing corals to lose its nutrients and ecosystem change at unparalleled levels. These chemicals damage and deform coral larvae and coral DNA. These chemicals help catalyze the production of hydrogen peroxide, a well-known bleaching agent, at a level high enough to harm marine organisms.

Many places in the world that are popular tourist hotspots are facing a steadfast deterioration of their wildlife and environment.

The Republic of Palau, signed ‘The Responsible Tourism Education Act of 2018’ into law, which will ban the use and sale of all skincare sunscreen products that are known to have environmental pollutants for example oxybenzone, triclosan and etc. Which will go into effect in January, 2020, tourists who will bring banned sunscreens to the country will have it confiscated, and business that sells the product will be fined. The Hawaii government has also signed the first bill in the country that will ban sunscreens containing chemicals harmful to coral reefs, the bill will go into effect in January, 2021.

Such important steps and drastic decisions taken by these states, highlight the grave intensity of the problem. Given the condition of reefs, it is essential that the impact of sunscreens is assessed. It has now become our utmost priority to help preserve our nature. Small steps need to be taken at all levels to safeguard the integrity and essence of mankind and nature. Organic and friendly alternatives should be made conversant.

Our survival depends directly upon our global ecosystems. So, let’s become the catalysts of innovation and become the change makers.

Campus Chronicle

YUVA’s debut magazine Campus Chronicle is a first of its kind, and holds the uniqueness of being an entirely student-run monthly magazine.

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