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 screen out UV-A and UV-B rays from the sun. Although some exposure to UV-B light is necessary for the production of Vitamin D, a compound which is protective against breast cancer,[1] excessive exposures to UV rays increase the risk of developing skin cancer. UV filters are therefore added to many personal care products to help provide protection against these potentially harmful ultraviolet rays. They are also added to products to prevent fading and degradation as a result of sun exposure. Common UV filters include benzophenone (BP) and its derivatives (e.g., BP-1, BP-2, and oxybenzone or BP-3), homosalate, octinoxate (OMC), 4methylbenzylidene camphor (MBC) 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.[2]

What evidence links UV filters to breast cancer?

  • UV filters easily penetrate the skin and have been found throughout the breast in tissue taken from women undergoing mastectomies for breast cancer.[3] UV filters have also been measured in human placental tissue[4] and milk[5], as well as in adult urine and blood [6],[7]
  • 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.[8]
  • Some of these chemicals have been shown in laboratory studies to increase the growth and proliferation of breast cancer cells.[9] Other studies have shown that these UV filters increase the migration and invasive activity of human breast cancer cells.[10]
  • Studies have shown that exposure to some UV filters can affect the development of reproductive organs in animals exposed in utero, while other studies have shown that exposure to some UV filters could affect the thyroid gland.[11]

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. [12],[13],[14]

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.


Updated 2019

[1]Atoum M, Alzoughool F. Vitamin D and breast cancer: Latest evidence and future steps. Breast Cancer: Basic Clin Res. 2017;11:1-8.

[2]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.

[3] Barr L, Alamer M, Darbre PD. Measurement of concentrations of four chemical ultraviolet filters in human breast tissue at serial locations across the breast. J Appl Toxicol. 2018;38(8):1112–20.

[4] Valle-Sistac J, Molins-Delgado D, Díaz M, Ibáñez L, Barceló D, Silvia Díaz-Cruz M. Determination of parabens and benzophenone-type UV filters in human placenta: First description of the existence of benzyl paraben and benzophenone-4. Environ Int. 2016;88:243–9.

[5] Rodríguez-Gómez R, Zafra-Gómez A, Dorival-García N, Ballesteros O, Navalón A. Determination of benzophenone-UV filters in human milk samples using ultrasound-assisted extraction and clean-up with dispersive sorbents followed by UHPLC-MS/MS analysis. Talanta. 2015;134:657–64.

[6] Calafat AM, Wong L-Y, Ye X, Reidy JA, Needham LL. Concentrations of the sunscreen agent benzophenone-3 in residents of the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2004. Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116(7):893–7.

[7] Janjua NR, Kongshoj B, Andersson A-M, Wulf HC. Sunscreens in human plasma and urine after repeated whole-body topical application. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 2008;22(4):456–61.

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] Alamer M, Darbre PD. Effects of exposure to six chemical ultraviolet filters commonly used in personal care products on motility of MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells in vitro. J Appl Toxicol. 2018;38(2):148–59.

[11] Lorigo, M, Marianna, M, Cairrao, E.  Photoprotection of ultraviolet-B filters: Updated review of endocrine disrupting properties. Steroids. 2018;131:46-58.

[12] 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. Aquat Toxicol. 2006;79:305-324.

[13] 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.

[14] 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.

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