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Sunscreen and Fertility


a blog by Laurence A. Jacobs, M.D., Fertility Centers of Illinois, July 27, 2016

Remember your sunscreen! You hear this often during the summer, and there is a whole generation of men and women who were taught to slather and spray it on to protect their skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen prevents sunburn and reduces your risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

But can sunscreen be harmful as well?

The answer is … possibly.

Fertility rates throughout the world have fallen during the last decade, and scientists theorize that chemicals in everyday products, such as sunscreen, are contributing to the problem, particularly in men.

A study published in April 2016 from the University of Copenhagen found that 29 of the 31 UV filters approved for use in sunscreen in the United States and Europe. They found that 45 percent of them stopped sperm from functioning properly. The filters mimicked the effects of the female hormone progesterone.

A 2014 National Institutes of Health study suggested that exposure to certain benzophenone UV radiation filters in sunscreen may be linked to infertility in men. The researchers tested concentrations of the UV filters in the urine of men and found that two of them — BP-2 and 4-OH-BP — were associated with diminished fertility in men.

Sunscreens contain active ingredients that come in two forms: mineral and chemical. If you are using a chemical sunscreen, the chemicals can be absorbed into the body and can be found in your blood, urine and breast milk. These chemicals can potentially cause hormone disruptions.

If you are trying to start a family, it’s a good idea to take precautions. Look for mineral based sunscreens, such as those that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out a list of safe sunscreens each summer. They also recommend the following:

  1. Check your sunscreen against their sunscreen database.

  2. Stay away from products with an SPF higher than 50. The FDA has determined that high SPF claims may be “inherently misleading.”

  3. Avoid spray sunscreens. They don’t provide a uniform coating, and you don’t want to coat your lungs with the chemicals.

  4. Avoid sunscreens with vitamin A. Studies have linked retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, to the formation of skin tumors and lesions on sun exposed skin.

  5. Steer clear of oxybenzone, the most common UV filter. It may be a hormone disruptor and allergen.

  6. Cover up. The best sun protection is shirts, hats and pants.

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