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Recent research in Hong Kong has found that UV filters commonly used in sunscreen products can pollute nearby waters and endanger human health, said one of the city’s leading universities 

A “large amount” of seven common UV filter chemicals was found in Hong Kong seawater, as well as fish, shrimps and shells in aquaculture farms, said scientists at Hong Kong Baptist University.

“The impact of these contaminants, which transmit the food chain to humans and have a long-term impact on human fertility, cannot be neglected,” said Drs. Kelvin Leung, who led the research.


Tests on zebrafish, which have a similar genetic structure to humans, showed that the contaminated water caused anomalies and a higher mortality rate in fish embryos as the chemicals entered the food chain.

The university described the study as the first to identify the damage caused by a combination of chemical pollutants in the sunscreen.

The researchers said they would do additional testing to learn more about the effects of UV filters on the human body.

The chemicals tested in the zebrafish study included octocrylene (known as OC), benzophenone-3 (known as BP-3) and Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (known as EHMC), which have proven to be the most common UV chemical filters in Hong Kong.


The International Secretariat for Chemical Products of the European Union has already presented the BP-3 as a threat to human health and has asked to be replaced by another, safer ingredient.

Dr Leung added that these chemicals can accumulate in the human body and can not be dissolved or diluted simply with drinking water.

There is growing international concern about the polluting effects of sun protection.

Hawaii signed a bill in July to ban sunscreen with chemicals that are harmful to coral reefs, which will come into effect after 2021.

However, the ban has raised concerns that consumers may be discouraged from using sunscreen to protect their skin from cancer.


Leung called for more regulations on the use of chemicals in personal care products and recommended that consumers use sunscreens based on minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, or wear sunscreen.

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