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Sunscreens may interfere with sperm function

11 April 2016

By Arit Udoh

Appeared in BioNews 846

The ultraviolet (UV) filtering ingredients in sunscreen products interfere with the normal function of human sperm when applied to a sperm-containing solution in the lab.

Researchers tested 29 of the 31 UV filters approved for use in sunscreens in Europe or the USA to see whether they interfered with calcium ion signaling in sperm, a process that is important for normal function and critical for successful fertilisation.

The UV filters were assessed using sperm cells obtained from the semen of healthy volunteers and placed in a buffer solution designed to simulate conditions in the fallopian tube. At a conference of the US Endocrine Society, the authors reported that 13 of the UV filters tested caused an inappropriate surge in calcium ions.

'These effects began at very low doses of the chemicals, below the levels of some UV filters found in people after whole-body application of sunscreens,' said lead author Professor Niels Skakkebaek, from the University of Copenhagen.

The study also reported that nine of the 13 UV filters that induced an influx in calcium ion directly activated the sperm-specific calcium ion channel known as CatSper, thereby mimicking the effects of the female hormone progesterone. The study notes that 'some' of the UV filters affected sperm motility and viability but does not give further detail.

According to the study authors, previous research has shown that UV filters are rapidly absorbed through the skin and can be retrieved from blood and urine samples from healthy male volunteers who have used them.

Professor Skakkebaek said that the surge in calcium ions induced by UV filters might suggest these chemicals are 'endocrine disruptors,' and could 'explain in part why unexplained infertility is so prevalent.'

The authors say that clinical studies are now needed to see whether sunscreen has any effect on human fertility. They suggest that 'regulatory agencies should have a closer look at the effects of UV filters on fertility before approval.'

The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.


30 May 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
A giant scanner has been successfully used to sort 'good' sperm from 'bad'...
31 October 2016 - by Dr Ashley Cartwright 
The US start-up Episona has produced an epigenetic sperm test, which it claims can determine whether sperm will produce 'good' or 'poor' quality embryos...
24 October 2016 - by Annabel Slater 
Artificial sweeteners found in soft drinks may reduce female fertility, a study suggests...

29 February 2016 - by Dr Rosie Gilchrist 
Certain aspects of mobile phone usage may be linked to abnormal sperm concentration, according to research...
01 February 2016 - by Fiona Ibanichuka 
Scientists have discovered that the use of painkillers during pregnancy in rats may reduce the fertility of their offspring...
19 October 2015 - by Lone Hørlyck 
Prenatal exposure to chemicals used in fracking for oil or natural-gas operations may affect sperm count later in life, a new study performed on mice suggests...
13 April 2015 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
A recent study suggests that exposure to pesticide residue through diet may affect sperm quality...
19 May 2014 - by Dr Rosie Gilchrist 
Chemicals found in common household products can affect human sperm behaviour in the laboratory, according to a recent study...

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