Sunscreens: are they beneficial for health? An overview of endocrine disrupting properties of UV-filters


N.E. Skakkebaek, Department of Growth and Reproduction, University of Copenhagen, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark. E-mail:


Today, topical application of sunscreens, containing ultraviolet-filters (UV-filters), is preferred protection against adverse effects of ultraviolet radiation. Evidently, use of sunscreens is effective in prevention of sunburns in various models. However, evidence for their protective effects against melanoma skin cancer is less conclusive. Three important observations prompted us to review the animal data and human studies on possible side effects of selected chemical UV-filters in cosmetics. (1) the utilization of sunscreens with UV-filters is increasing worldwide; (2) the incidence of the malignant disorder for which sunscreens should protect, malignant melanoma, is rapidly increasing and (3) an increasing number of experimental studies indicating that several UV-filters might have endocrine disruptive effects. The selected UV-filters we review in this article are benzophenone-3 (BP-3), 3-benzylidene camphor (3-BC), 3-(4-methyl-benzylidene) camphor (4-MBC), 2-ethylhexyl 4-methoxy cinnamate (OMC), Homosalate (HMS), 2-ethylhexyl 4-dimethylaminobenzoate (OD-PABA) and 4-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). The potential adverse effects induced by UV-filters in experimental animals include reproductive/developmental toxicity and disturbance of hypothalamic–pituitary–thyroid axis (HPT). Few human studies have investigated potential side effects of UV-filters, although human exposure is high as UV-filters in sunscreens are rapidly absorbed from the skin. One of the UV-filters, BP-3, has been found in 96% of urine samples in the US and several UV-filters in 85% of Swiss breast milk samples. It seems pertinent to evaluate whether exposure to UV-filters contribute to possible adverse effects on the developing organs of foetuses and children.