Can your sunscreen cause endometriosis?

Just in time for summer, a report links a widely-used and highly-effective sunscreen ingredient to an increased risk for women of being diagnosed with endometriosis, a leading cause of infertility. The ingredient, benzophenone or BP, is a UV-filter commonly found in a wide variety of popular sunscreens, spanning all price points and SPF levels from 15 up.

The study, led by Kurunthachalam Kannan, analyzed urine samples from 625 women currently being treated for the disease. High levels of one specific type of BP were found to be consistent with higher rates of endometriosis among those tested. BP, which passes through the skin, is readily absorbed into the blood stream, where it mimics the effects of estrogen. Endometriosis, like some cancers, is estrogen-dependent.

Study results while preliminary, are compelling As this study was the first of its kind to examine BP levels and endometriosis, additional research is needed before specific guidelines about exposure level and human safety in general can be determined.

It should be stressed the take-away message of this study is not complete abandonment of sunscreen use, particularly in light of an earlier study which indicated some women with endometriosis have a highly photo-sensitive phenotype, and therefore are more vulnerable to the sun's burning rays than the population at large.

Women concerned about endometriosis and over-all health may benefit from using less toxic sunscreen alternatives. A fairly comprehensive list of natural, organic sunscreens can be found here. While the Kannan study did not reference BP's effects on other medical diagnoses or on male reproductive health, men as well as children would probably benefit from using less toxic forms of sunscreen as well.

Corey Whelan is Program Director for Path2Parenthood, and a freelance writer, based in New York. She is also a proud mom to IVF twins.

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