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SPF is something that we all tell our customers to wear every single day, but this important product has come under the spotlight recently due to its potential ecotoxicity—harmful effects on aquatic life and ecosystems.

As beauty brands and manufacturers, it’s essential that we consider potential ecotoxicity in our products and implement strategies to minimize their environmental footprint. Here’s everything you need to know about sunscreen and ecotoxicity.

What is ecotoxicity?

Ecotoxicity refers to the adverse effects that substances can have on different ecosystems.

In the case of sunscreen, the main concerns are around the use of chemical UV filters and nanoparticles which can impact marine life:

  1. Chemical UV filters: UV filters like oxybenzone and octinoxate have been found to harm coral reefs by causing coral bleaching, inhibiting coral growth, and disrupting the relationship between coral and algae. When these chemicals enter the water, they can accumulate in coral tissues, affecting the health of entire ecosystems.
  2. Nanoparticles: These particles are normally used to enhance the cosmetic appeal of sunscreens but can be dangerous when they enter aquatic environments as they can be ingested by marine organisms, leading to bioaccumulation and potential toxic effects.

To reduce the impact that your products have on aquatic ecosystems, brands should consider replacing chemical UV filters with safer alternatives like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are physical blockers and have a lower environmental impact. Alternatively, you should look at UV filters with high biodegradability and low toxicity.

For nanoparticles, think about exploring alternatives, such as larger particle sizes or coatings that reduce the reactivity of nanoparticles. It’s also important that a thorough assessment should be conducted into the potential risks of nanoparticles.

How to improve your formulas

If you’re concerned about ecotoxicity, here are some things you should think about:

Choose biodegradable ingredients

Use ingredients that are easily biodegradable and break down into non-toxic substances, which reduces the risk of accumulation in aquatic organisms.

Choose ingredients with better water resistance

Using water-resistant ingredients means that they stay on the skin during water activities. This is also good for your customers as it means they have to reapply less frequently.

Educate your customers

Encourage consumers to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before entering the water, allowing the product to absorb into the skin. This helps minimize the amount of sunscreen washed off into the water.

Look for natural and organic ingredient alternatives

Explore natural and organic ingredients that are less likely to cause harm to marine life. Plant-based oils, extracts, and mineral-based filters can provide effective sun protection without the environmental risks associated with some chemical UV filters.

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