Sunscreens - The Latest Updates and the Impact on the Environment

08sep3:00 PM9:00 PMSunscreens - The Latest Updates and the Impact on the Environment3:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Event Details

Sunscreens and Environmental Impact



Healthy coral reefs are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth.  They provide billions of dollars in economic and environmental benefits, including food, coastal protection, and tourism.  Our coral systems are under threat from climate change, unsustainable fishing, land-based pollution, coastal development, and disease.

Unfortunately, some of the ingredients contained in personal health care and sunscreen products have been found to also threaten coral reef ecosystems.  How these, and other compounds affect reef ecosystems is an active area of research.  Investigators at the National Academy of Sciences are currently reviewing studies that will help to predict the environmental impact of sunscreens on coral reef systems and other aquatic life.  The most recent round of studies was completed recently, and the September 8th NYSCC seminar will be the first opportunity to learn what the findings are.

The aim of this seminar is;

  • Understand the study protocols used to evaluate sunscreens with respect to the corals and other marine life in the aquatic environment.
  • Can a “reef safe” claim be made using the current test protocols?
  • Be informed of other ingredients that may have a negative impact on corals and alternative ingredients that may be more suitable with respect to coral safety and other marine life.
  • How far from the beach can the residue from “reef-unsafe” ingredients reach waterways and into the ocean?

Coral reefs are one of the most beautiful, colorful, and biodiverse ecosystems on the planet—but they are also one of the most fragile. On the other hand, ultraviolet radiation is known to be associated with skin cancer, how can we protect aquatic life and our skin?

Join us September 8th to find out.

Pleasantdale Chateau
757 Eagle Rock Ave.
West Orange, N.J. 07052

3:00 – 3:10pm
Welcome and announcements

3:10- 3:40pm
Dietram Scheufele

3:40- 4:10pm
Charles Menzie

Cocktail Hour

5:10- 5:40pm
Carys Mitchelmore

5:40 – 6:10pm
Michael Connelly

6:10 – 7:30pm

7:30 – 8:00pm
Nicole Crane

8:00 – 8:15pm

8:15 – 8:45pm
Q&A, Concluding remarks


Event Moderator, Howard Epstein, was a scholar in residence at the University of Cincinnati department of dermatology and received his Ph.D. in Pharmacognosy from the Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio during that time. He has been in the cosmetics industry for many years since he began his career formulating cosmetics for Estee Lauder, Maybelline, Max Factor, Bausch & Lomb and Kao Brands. In addition to his interest in botanicals, Howard previously served as editor of the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Science and is a member of the International Academy of Dermatology. He is on the editorial board of the dermatological journals Clinics in Dermatology and SKINmed representing the cosmetics industry to dermatologists. Howard has authored chapters in various cosmetic technology textbooks including various chapters in “Harry’s Cosmeticology” and holds eight patents and two patent applications.


Charles Menzie, Ph.D.   –  Chair of the National Academies Committee on Sunscreens Environmental Impact

Charles A. Menzie is Chair of the National Academies Committee on Environmental Impact of Currently Marketed Sunscreens and Potential Human Impacts of Changes in Sunscreen Usage. Dr. Menzie is a Principal and former Practice Director at Exponent, Inc. He also served as Global Executive Director for the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) from 2014 to 2020. He specializes in the application of ecological and human health risk assessment and causal analysis methods for evaluating the potential for effects and for diagnosing the causes of environmental harms and damages. His technical expertise includes the evaluation of the environmental fate and effects of physical, biological, and chemical stressors on terrestrial and aquatic systems. He has applied his expertise to situations involving nutrient enrichment, chemical contamination, use of pesticides and other chemical products, oil and gas operations, fossil fuel and nuclear power plants, alternative energy projects, mining, invasive species, water management, and vulnerability assessments for climate change. As part of his risk assessment practice, he has developed exposure and food web models to evaluate how people and ecological receptors may be exposed to a variety of chemicals. These include several spatially explicit models used to refine exposure estimates. He previously served on the National Academies Committee on the Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments. Dr. Menzie has a B.S. in Biology from Manhattan College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Biology from City University of New York.


Concerns have been raised about the potential toxicity of sunscreens to a variety of marine and freshwater aquatic organisms, particularly corals. At the same time, there are concerns that people will use less sunscreen as a result of environmental concerns. An ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reviewed the state of the science on the use of the active ingredients in sunscreens (UV filters) currently marketed in the United States. This review was conducted to provide information useful for future application in ecological risk assessments, by reviewing information on UV filter fates, exposure, and effects. The report also includes review of the potential human impacts that could result from changes in availability of certain UV filters for use in sunscreens, in order to inform management of both human and ecosystem health. This presentation will describe the committee’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations related to this issue, as well as the priority knowledge gaps to fill to inform higher tiered risk assessments. The presentation will include discussion of the intersection of aquatic chemistry, ecotoxicology, ecology, and epidemiology to understanding the potential for risks from UV filters and implications to human health for changes in sunscreen use.

Dietram A. Scheufele, Ph.D. – Taylor-Bascom Chair in Science Communication and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Dietram A. Scheufele is the Taylor-Bascom Chair in Science Communication and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in the Morgridge Institute for Research, and a Distinguished Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.  He is one of the most widely cited experts in the fields of political communication, science communication, and science & technology policy. His current research examines how algorithmically curated information environments fundamentally reshape how we all make sense of the world around us. His most recent publications have included work on mis- and disinformation, open science, and the societal impacts of emerging technologies like AI and CRISPR. Scheufele is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the German National Academy of Science and Engineering, and the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters. Scheufele is also an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Communication Association, and a lifetime associate of the U.S. National Research Council. He is a recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award at UW, the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Young Faculty Teaching Award, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Spitzer Excellence in Teaching Award.


The COVID-19 pandemic has led many of us to return to outdated deficit thinking when it comes to publicly communicate science. If we can just restore trust or combat misinformation, many have argued, people will once again engage in behaviors that are in line with the best available science. Unfortunately, the latest social science tells a very different story. Algorithmically-curated online information environments capitalize on human psychology and on a wealth of consumer data that exist about each one of us, and they tailor information that is tailored to what we already believe, rather than challenge potential misperceptions. So what does this mean for effective communication about sunscreen use or other attitudes or behaviors in line with the best available science? How can we meaningfully connect with audiences about emerging and sometimes contested science? And how can we balance the tensions between having to get public buy-in to urgent public health challenges, while maintaining long-term trust in science as our best way of producing knowledge?

Michael Connelly, Ph.D. – Postdoctoral Fellow, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Mike Connelly is a marine evolutionary biologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) in Miami, Florida. His Ph.D. research investigated host-microbe interactions in Pocillopora corals from Taiwan and Panama, using experimental chemical treatments to examine shifts in coral-associated bacteria communities and coral host gene expression. Mike is currently a Biodiversity Genomics postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, working between the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama and the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) in Washington, D.C., and his current project is examining host-microbe coevolution and cryptic speciation in corals from the eastern tropical Pacific.


Coral reefs worldwide are currently threatened by anthropogenic disturbances, including global warming, ocean acidification, severe disease outbreaks, and environmental pollution, among other local impacts. This presentation will provide an overview of the importance of coral reef ecosystems and emphasize the need to protect and conserve coral biodiversity in the face of climate change. This presentation will also include an overview of the major pollutant classes of concern for coral reefs, including heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, and other pharmaceutical and cosmetic chemicals, before delving into experimental evidence for harmful effects of antibiotics exposure on coral health. The presentation will conclude with a brief description of the Smithsonian Institution’s current efforts to conserve coral reefs, and the various ways the private sector and general public can get involved in marine stewardship.

Nicole Crane, Ph.D., Faculty/Cabrillo College; Executive Director, Co-Lead, One People One Reef

Nicole Crane is professor in the Department of Biology at Cabrillo College in Aptos California and associate at the California Academy of Sciences.  She is skilled in Nonprofit Organizations, Environmental Education, Conservation Issues, Proposal Writing, and Fundraising. Experience in coral reef conservation, working with indigenous communities, marine and coastal management planning, disaster mitigation, curriculum design and delivery (college teaching), and field program development and implementation. As Executive Director for One People One Reef, Nicole is leading a collaboration between Micronesian coastal communities & scientists who develop inclusive, adaptive, & sustainable conservation solutions to protect the health & resilience of critical coral reefs marine habitat & the people who rely on them for food security. Our revolutionary approach to adaptive marine conservation supports community leadership & traditional ecological knowledge & management systems with modern science. We envision resilient reefs & healthy communities for current and future generations.


Coral reefs are in steep decline worldwide due to multiple factors, including warming temperatures, ocean acidification, local and large-scale pollution, and overfishing. Yet there are coral ‘bright spots’ and evidence of resilient ecosystems and healthy reefs. People’s activities at a local level are an often overlooked but critical element of coral reef protection. Indigenous people protect their habitats through their stewardship activities, and visitors to reefs can also help protect through enhanced awareness, and reef-safe actions such as reducing chemical and physical impacts. Awareness of UV impacts on skin has led to a dramatic increase in sunscreen use, many of which can have detrimental impacts on sensitive ecosystems such as coral reefs. Some formulations of sunscreen contain compounds that can disrupt coral reproduction and growth. These chemical stressors are compounded by other stressors, creating conditions that can lead to coral reef decline, which puts coral-dependent fish populations at risk. Ultimately this affects people who depend on coastal fishing, tourism, and other ecosystem services. Some stressors are beyond our immediate control to mitigate, but others can be addressed through the actions of consumers and product developers. Sunscreens are such a product, and through an enhanced awareness of their impacts, and reef-safe options, we can reduce that stressor. Nicole Crane will talk about coral reefs, some of the stressors, including sunscreens, and the value coral reefs bring to people, including the indigenous outer islanders of Micronesia with whom she and her teams work through their non-profit One People One Reef.

Carys Mitchelmore, Ph.D., Professor University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Chesapeake Biological Laboratory

Carys has over 25 years of experience as a researcher and educator in Environmental Health and Toxicology. My research has spanned both fundamental and applied questions concerning the fate and effects of pollutants, including, crude oil, chemical oil spill dispersants, UV filters (sunscreens and other products) flame retardants, coal ash, endocrine disruptors, disinfection byproducts, metals, pesticides, bacteria and various contaminant mixtures. Species of study have included standard EPA test organisms and various fish species, oysters/mussels, blue crabs, algae, turtles and corals. I specifically have focused on routes of exposure (dissolved/particulate), identifying sites of toxic action, metabolic pathways and sub-lethal responses, particularly those related to oxidative stress, antioxidant responses, DNA damage and carcinogenesis. Also investigated the efficacy and effects of various ballast water treatments, including shipboard trials of filtration, UV, chlorination, sodium hydroxide, ozone, bromine and various biocides. She has served on various committees and advisory groups as an environmental toxicologist, including National Academy panels, various advisory groups for the Deepwater Horizon NRDA effort, and I have given various House and Senate testimonies at both the Federal and State level. I have prepared reports and served as an expert witness in numerous court cases with respect to aquatic toxicity concerns. I have also served as a peer-reviewer for many ecological hazard assessment and regulatory documents.


UV filters are a diverse group of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) contained in a number of consumer products, with differing physical and chemical characteristics that determine their occurrence, fate and effects in the aquatic environment. Organic UV filters have been detected in wastewater, freshwater and marine environments in multiple matrices, such as, the aqueous phase, biosolids, sediment and biota. Their ubiquitous presence has led to concerns on their risk to resident organisms. The impact of organic UV filters to corals has received significant media and policy attention although data on their presence in coral reef environments and their toxicity to corals is limited. This presentation will summarize the state of the science on data relevant to the environmental risk of UV filters to coral reefs. This will include some of our recent research on their presence in seawater, sediment and coral tissues and acute and chronic toxicity of some UV filters to corals using methods based on standard toxicity test protocols. This research provides additional insight as to the environmentally relevant concentrations of organic UV filters at beaches and coral reefs, including spatial and temporal assessments useful for modelling efforts and provides exposure data for future environmental risk assessments of UV-filters on coral reefs. It also provides and compares toxicity thresholds in coral species with standard toxicity test species and highlights some of the complexities and challenges of working with coral species and UV filters.


(Thursday) 3:00 PM - 9:00 PM