Experts refute claims that sunscreen affects male fertility

The Cosmetics, Toiletries and Perfumeries Association (CTPA) has responded to suggestions that sunscreen could be affecting male fertility.

The industry association addressed claims reported in the media from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology’s annual meeting in Lisbon this week, where some experts said that chemicals in sunscreens and other cosmetic products could be to blame for the “toxic environment” behind a decline in the average volume of men producing healthy sperm since the 1940s.

The claims came from Dr Niels Jorgensen, a consultant at the Department of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. He presented the results of his 15-year study of almost 5,000 Danish men, with an average age of 19, which found that just 25% had good-quality semen.

“Modern life is having an impact because we are exposed to so many chemicals and we don’t know what they do,” he said, adding that sun protection products and cosmetics in general could all increase risks to sperm.

He also said that he would advise his own family against using sun protection products: “We are advised to protect ourselves with these sunblocks but it seems when you go to the laboratory and test some of these chemicals they can interfere with the sperm function. “If I was to advise my own family I would say don’t use it.”

Dr Chris Flower, director-general of the CTPA, heavily criticised Dr Jorgensen’s claims, saying, "There is no published evidence to support such an allegation and we can state categorically that cosmetic products are required by strict European laws to be safe."

He added, "The industry and the regulators are aware of concerns regarding possible endocrine effects [a substance that could reduce sperm rates or affect fertility would be classed as an endocrine disruptor] and if such a risk was present from cosmetic products, action would already have taken place to deal with it. Not to wear sunscreen is an outrageous piece of advice because we know the risks of sun damage.”

The CTPA also stressed that ingredients, including UV filters, are not endocrine disruptors, adding: “There is a wealth of scientific information that supports the safety of these ingredients and nothing linking them to a decline in fertility.”

This isn’t the first time claims like these have been made; last year a study claimed that chemicals in sunscreen had been shown to affect sperm function.

In the study, researchers from the Center of Advanced European Studies and Research in Germany and the University Department of Growth and Reproduction in Denmark tested 100 chemicals including ultraviolet filters such as 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC), which is used in some sunscreens and found results that suggested endocrine disruptors may lead to widespread fertility issues .

Another study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, reportedly found that after testing urine samples for 12 months, men who had high levels of BP-2 and 4OH-BP ultraviolent filters had a 30% reduction in fecundity, or the biological ability to reproduce.