UV Filters

At a Glance

You shouldn’t have to choose between skin cancer and breast cancer. Research has found that many sunscreens contain chemicals that mimic estrogen in the body, disrupt the endocrine system, and can play a significant role in breast cancer development.

What are UV filters?

Ultraviolet filters, or UV filters, are chemicals that are able to screen out UV-A and UV-B rays from the sun. These chemicals are added to products to help provide protection against these harmful ultraviolet rays and reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. UV filters are also added to products to prevent fading and degradation as a result of sun exposure. Common UV filters include benzophenone and its derivatives (e.g., oxybenzone), homosalate, octinoxate and PABA.

Where are UV filters found?

UV filters are primarily found in sunscreens but may also be added to hair color, shampoo, makeup foundation, lipstick, nail polish, skin creams and lotions.[1]

What evidence links UV filters to breast cancer?

Many chemicals used as UV filters in personal care products can mimic estrogen in the human body, and are thus considered to be endocrine disruptors.[2] Some of these chemicals have been shown in laboratory studies to increase the growth and proliferation of breast cancer cells.2,[3] Other studies have shown that exposure to some UV filters can affect the development of reproductive organs in animals exposed in utero,2 while other studies have shown that exposure to some UV filters could affect the thyroid gland.[4],[5],[6],[7]

Who is most likely to be exposed to UV filters?

Anyone who uses sunscreen or personal care products is likely to be exposed to UV filters.

Who is most vulnerable to the health effects of UV filters?

People who are most vulnerable to the potential health effects of UV filters are pregnant women, infants who are breast-feeding and agricultural and landscaping workers, especially those who regularly use pesticides, because some UV filters can increase the permeability of skin to certain pesticides. [8],[9],[10]

What are the top tips to avoid exposure?

The best way to reduce exposure to UV filters is to read labels on sunscreens, cosmetics and other personal care products and avoid purchasing those that list chemical UV filters, such as octinoxate, octyl methoxycinnamate, benzophenone, oxybenzone, PABA and padimate O.

  • Choose sunscreens that use sun-blocking compounds derived from minerals, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, in a non-inhalable form;
  • Avoid purchasing lipsticks, hair products, nail polish and other personal care products that list chemical UV filters such as octinoxate or octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC).
  • When spending long periods of time in the sun, use good sun sense. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, lightweight long sleeves and pants, and apply a mineral-based sunblock liberally and frequently.

[1] U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Household Product Database. Available online: http://hpd.nlm.nih.gov/ – See more at: http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/homosalate/#sthash.ymdPI2cZ.dpuf or http://hpd.nlm.nih.gov/index.htm. Accessed February, 2016.

[2] Krause, M., Klit, A., Blomberg Jensen, M., Søeborg, T., Frederiksen, H., Schlumpf, M., & Drzewiecki, K. T. (2012). Sunscreens: are they beneficial for health? An overview of endocrine disrupting properties of UV‐filters. International journal of andrology35(3), 424-436.

[3] Schlumpf, M., Cotton, B., Conscience, M., Haller, V., Steinmann, B., & Lichtensteiger, W. (2001). In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens. Environ Health Persp, 109, 239–244.

[4] Astwood EB. “The chemical nature of compounds which inhibit the function of the thyroid gland.” JPET May 1943 vol. 78 no. 179-89. Print

[5] Taurog A, Chaikoff IL, and Franklin AL. “The structural specificity of sulfanilamide-like compounds as inhibitors of the invitro conversion of inorganic iodide to thyroxine and diiodotyrosine by thyroid tissue.” J Biol Chem. 1945 Dec;161:537-43. Print

[6] Taurog A. “Thyroid peroxidase and thyroxine biosynthesis.” Recent Prog Horm Res. 1970;26:189-247. Print.

[7] Taurog A, Chaikoff IL, and Franklin AL. “The structural specificity of sulfanilamide-like compounds as inhibitors of the invitro conversion of inorganic iodide to thyroxine and diiodotyrosine by thyroid tissue.” J Biol Chem. 1945 Dec;161:537-43. Print.

[8] Kunz P, Fent K. Mulptiple hormonal activities of UV filters and comparison of in vivo and in vitro estrogenic activity of ethyl-4-aminobenzoate in fish. Aquatic Toxicology, vol. 79, pp 305-324, 2006.

[9] Mikamo E., et al. Endocrine disruptors induce cytochrome P450 by affecting transcriptional regulation via pregame X receptor. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, vol. 193, no. 1, pp 66-72, 2003.

[10] Brand, R., McMahon, L., Jendrzejewski, J., & Charron, A. (2007). Transdermal absorption of the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid is enhanced by both ethanol consumption and sunscreen application. Food Chem Toxicol, 45, 93–97.