14 DEC 2018
Corail crèmes solaires octocrylène
© Didier Stien, CNRS

A team of researchers from the Laboratory of Biodiversity and Microbial Biotechnology and the Ocean Observatory of Banyuls-sur-Mer (of Sorbonne University and the CNRS) has demonstrated the toxicity of octocrylene (CO) to coral reefs. This ingredient is used in many sunscreens and cosmetics around the world. The study, which has just been published in Analytical Chemistry, warns of the need to discover new UV-absorbing filters that are not harmful to coral reefs.

Octocrylene is very frequently used in the development of sunscreens, and can be up to 10 percent of the cream’s composition. By performing a test on the coral species Pocillopora damicornis*, the Banyuls-sur-Mer team made two important discoveries. On one hand, octocrylene "hides" and accumulates in coral by being converted into fatty acid derivatives, compounds that until now have not been detected by scientists. Secondly, analysis demonstrated the toxicity of octocrylene, affecting the vital functions of the coral cells that were exposed.

The one-week test conducted by the researchers showed a degree of toxicity at a concentration barely higher than that measured in continuously exposed locations, such as beaches.

While it remains essential to protect ourselves from ultraviolet radiation, the results of this study call for R&D to replace octocrylene** with new products that are not toxic to marine life.

The results of this study were published in the scientific journal Analytical Chemistry, Wednesday, December 5, 2018.


* Tropical coral species that are widespread throughout the world.
** As of 1 January, 2020, sun creams containing octocrylene will be banned in the Palau Islands (Micronesia).

Metabolomics reveal that octocrylene accumulates in Pocillopora damicornis tissues as fatty acid conjugates and triggers coral cells mitochondrial dysfunction, Didier Stien, Fanny Clergeaud, Alice S. Rodrigues, Karine Lebaron, Rémi Pillot, Pascal Romans, Sonja Fagervold and Philippe Lebaron