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Sunscreen May Be Tied to Male Infertility

Adapted from "NIH Study Links Ultraviolet Filters to Pregnancy Delays."

Certain sunscreen chemicals used to protect against ultraviolet rays may impair men’s ability to father children, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center.

Benzophenone (BP)-type ultraviolet (UV) filters are commonly used, in sunscreens, hair products, and skin moisturizers. Some of these chemicals, upon being absorbed by the skin, can interfere with the body’s hormones and endocrine system processes. Researchers found that men with high exposure to UV filters BP-2 or 4OH-BP had a 30 percent reduction in fecundity, the biological ability to reproduce.

Their findings suggest that some, but not all, UV filters may be associated with diminished fertility in men, independent of their partners’ exposure. The researchers observed effects among men with the high exposure to UV filters BP-2 or 4OH-BP.

Male fecundity seems to be more susceptible to these chemicals than female fecundity. The women participants actually had greater exposure to the UV filters overall, but their exposure was not associated with any significant pregnancy delays. The next step is to figure out how these particular chemicals may be affecting couple fecundity—whether it is by diminishing sperm quality or inhibiting reproduction some other way.

The scientists recommend that men who are concerned about fertility may be interested in other ways to reduce their exposure to benzophenone UV filters—whether by cutting back on other products that contain the UV filters or by washing after returning indoors.

Earlier studies, done on the same population of 501 couples trying to conceive, have linked reduced fertility to high cholesterol levels in women and couples and to high concentrations of phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA) in men.

There is no law that requires manufacturers to disclose these chemicals are in their products. They are not on the ingredient list on the packaging. As more is learned about these chemicals and the unintended consequences they may have on our health, that may change.

December 2014

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