Sunscreen and Male Fertility

Read on to learn more about sunscreen and how it may impact male fertility

Sunscreen often finds itself all over the news, and it’s not just during the summer. In the summer of 2021, however, there were a number of voluntary recalls by sunscreen brands after independent testing had found they were contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical called benzene.

Some may be surprised to learn that skin is actually the largest organ in the body. This complex organ has many functions, like acting as a barrier to the outside world, fighting off bugs, allergens, and toxins, and helping to regulate body temperature. Skin also has properties that allow for something called “dermal absorption”—the absorption of chemicals from the outside world through the skin and into the the body.  Chemicals that enter the body this way may reach the bloodstream, potentially causing health problems.

Researchers are continuing to study whether or not certain sunscreen chemicals impact male fertility. A 2014 NIH study by the NIH and and New York State Department of Health found that certain chemicals used to protect against UV rays may interfere with men’s ability to conceive.

The researchers caution that the results are preliminary and that additional studies are needed to confirm findings. They point out that “Sunscreen is important for sun protection, and we definitely encourage people to continue using sunscreen to avoid skin cancer. But men who are concerned about fertility may be interested in other ways to reduce their exposure to benzophenone UV filters—whether by cutting back on other products that contain the UV filters or by washing after returning indoors.”

A study published in 2018 looked at the effects of UV-filtering chemicals on human sperm cell function. The study found that “many UV-filtering chemicals commonly used in sunscreen interfere with the function of human sperm cells, and mimic the effect of the female hormone progesterone.” This type of effect may impair fertility. The studies were done in a laboratory, so it’s not clear if the same result will occur in live people until clinical studies are performed.   There is more research that needs to be done in this space evaluating the connection between UV-filtering chemicals in sunscreens and male fertility.