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Toxic sunblock products pollute water and pose health threat to marine animals


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(NaturalNews) Sunblock ingredients that wash off swimmers' skin and into the oceans form toxic chemicals that may be destructive to nearly all life in the oceans, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies in Spain and published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Sunscreens have long been made with the ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which effectively block ultraviolet radiation from reaching the skin. In recent decades, sunscreen manufacturers have largely turned to using these ingredients in nanoparticle form. At such a tiny scale, these particles, 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, have fundamentally different physical and chemical properties from what they do at the normal, everyday scale that we're used to. This means that sunscreens made with nanoparticles are less oily and easier to rub into the skin, but their health and environmental properties are largely unknown.

Nanoparticles form chemical that poisons ocean life

Prior research has suggested that, in the presence of sunlight, titanium dioxide nanoparticles may react with water to form numerous potentially toxic chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide. High levels of hydrogen peroxide are known to be particularly lethal to microscopic algae known as phytoplankton, which form the base of the ocean's food web and are responsible for producing much of the Earth's oxygen.

In the new study, researchers wanted to determine whether titanium dioxide nanoparticles from sunscreen could be washing off swimmers' skin and increasing hydrogen peroxide levels in the ocean.

"Tourism is one of the world's largest industries, and coastal tourism is in many countries the fastest-growing area of contemporary tourism," researcher David Sanchez-Quiles said.

"Sun care products have increased an average of 7 percent per year over the last five years" in the Mediterranean region studied, he added.

The researchers tested seawater from Majorca Island's Palmira beach on the Mediterranean, which is visited by about 10,000 tourists per day.

In laboratory tests, the researchers found that, although nanoparticles are regularly coated in silica or alumina to prevent them from irritating the skin, these coatings dissolve in water and release the titanium dioxide into the ocean.

Based on their tests and samples as well as tourism data, the researchers estimated that 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of titanium dioxide is released into the ocean every single day during the summer, leading hydrogen peroxide levels to rise to 400 times their normal concentrations. This would likely have a severe impact on ocean life.

Natural approach better for the planet, your health

Although sunscreen is marketed as a way to reduce your risk of skin cancer, some research suggests that it may actually have the opposite effect. Numerous studies going as far back as 2000 have found higher rates of skin cancer among sunscreen users than among non-users.

Studies have implicated oxybenzone, the main ingredient used in non-nanoparticle sunscreens, as a carcinogen. Titanium dioxide nanoparticles have been linked to genetic changes and an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, autism and epilepsy, and zinc oxide nanoparticles have been shown to kill colon cells, penetrate human skin and reach the blood, and kill brain stem cells in mice.

In addition, research suggests that avoiding the sun too much can actually be more dangerous to your health than skin cancer. That's because sun exposure is the best way to boost your levels of vitamin D, which fights cancer and boosts immune function.

A 2008 study concluded that, if everyone doubled their sun exposure, 10 times more lives would be saved due to falling cancer rates than would be lost from increased rates of skin cancer.

For those seeking to limit their UV exposure, more covering clothing is probably the safest bet.

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