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Your Sunscreen Might Be Making You Infertile

a blog by Claire, May 11, 2012

It seems to be one of those Catch-22s. You're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't. Use sunscreen, that is. Not to mention shampoo and other cosmetics.

The Europiean Environment Agency (EEA) has issued a warning that endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in household products, such as sunscreen, may be contributing to the rising rates of cancer, reduced fertility, obesity and diabetes. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that disrupt the hormone system.

The EEA issues the warning after commissioning a review of recent scientific literature in "The impacts of endocrine disrupters on wildlife, people and their environments" – The Weybridge+15 (1996–2011) report.

In a statement, EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade said: "Scientific research gathered over the last few decades shows us that endocrine disruption is a real problem, with serious effects on wildlife, and possibly people. It would be prudent to take a precautionary approach to many of these chemicals until their effects are more fully understood."

The report demonstrates strong evidence of harm from chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol A in some wildlife species and in laboratory studies using rodent models. In humans, however, the effects are more difficult to demonstrate because of the difficulties with doing human studies.

The EEA says that in recent decades, there has been a significant growth in human diseases and disorders, including breast and prostate cancer, male infertility and diabetes. Many scientists think that this growth is connected to the rising levels of exposure to mixtures of some chemicals in widespread use.

The study highlights several factors related to fertility:

  • The link between some diseases and chemicals is now accepted. For example, exposure to oestrogen or to oestrogenic endocrine disrupting chemicals is an accepted risk factor for breast cancer, endometriosis, fibroids and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women.
  • Some chemicals may also cause low quality semen. Detailed reviews of current knowledge show clearly that human male reproductive problems are increasing in many countries. There are large regional differences in semen quality. In some European regions approximately 40 percent of men suffer from reduced fertility while in others it is less than 10 percent.
  • Laboratory studies show that the reproductive systems of a broad range of vertebrate species, for example polar bears and fish, and some invertebrate species such as some snails and oysters are susceptible to endocrine disrupting chemicals.
  • Some endocrine disrupting substances, such as DDT, TBT and PCBs, which are now banned or restricted in their use, have been shown to cause catastrophic declines in mollusc, seal and bird populations in some parts of the world because of their effects on reproduction. Scientists are concerned that many chemicals that are still in modern commerce also affect the human reproductive system.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals can be found in food, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, household products and cosmetics.

With Memorial Day weekend coming up, you may want to start the search now for a non endocrine disrupting sunscreen. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends products on their website. EWG has determined that mineral sunscreens — zinc and titanium — are safest, and Mexoryl SX (ecamsule) is another good option, but it’s sold in very few formulations. If you don’t like mineral products, EWG recommends sunscreens with avobenzone (3 percent for the best UVA protection, but avoide the hormone disruptors oxybenzone or 4-MBC.


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