Infertility has become a growing concern for many couples – and it’s no wonder why: As much as 15% of the population may be struggling with infertility issues. And, remember, it’s not always about the woman! Studies show that 7.5% of sexually-active men under the age of 45 had consulted a doctor about fertility issues. Of those men, 18% discovered they had conditions that may be contributing to their infertility.1
What’s Causing Male Infertility?
To test if a man has fertility issues, a semen analysis is done to check sperm count, motility, and shape. Exposure to foreign chemicals, called xenobiotics, have contributed to a number of male infertility cases — these toxins actually impact the mitochondria in the cells.2
The Sunscreen Debate
Sunscreen, a seemingly harmless over-the-counter (OTC) product, could be affecting male fertility. In fact, researchers have found that exposure to the alkylphenols contained in most sunscreen products can be linked to idiopathic male infertility.3
Chemical UV filters in sunscreen may do a great job of protecting your skin against harsh UV rays from the sun, but this protection may come at a price. A recent Danish study, the findings of which were presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, showed that 45 percent of the 29 most commonly used UV filters that were tested caused calcium ion influx into the sperm cells, hampering normal function, which can cause male infertility.4
Parabens, a commonly used preservative in cosmetics and personal care products including sunscreen, is being studied extensively for its role in male infertility, among other health problems. The compounds ‒ while an effective preservative – have estrogen-disrupting effects, are linked to infertility, and can result in the abnormal development of the testes in men.5 Methyl parabens and propyl parabens in particular inhibit mitochondrial function and cause male infertility.6
A separate study found that butyl, ethyl, methyl, and propylparaben are actually effective spermicides.7 Butylparaben in particular was found to hamper sperm membrane function.8 So if your sunscreen has any of these parabens in them, you may need to look for alternatives.
Is Your Sunscreen Safe?
Try and opt for organic sunscreens even if they are priced higher. But do check the label first, as you would for anything you consumed. There are as many as 18 different kinds of parabens, but a red flag you can look out for is any occurrence of the word “parabens” in the ingredients.9 Fragrance-free variants are better because they have fewer chemicals.
Also try and use alternative means to protect against the sun. Besides the simplest solution – which is to cover up, using hats and full-length clothes that protect your arms and legs – you could also use natural sunscreens.
Natural Alternatives To Sunscreen
Antioxidant-rich, plant-derived products are an alternative to chemical-laden sunscreens. These herbal preparations are rich in vitamins C and E, flavonoids, as well as phenolic acids that combat the work of free radicals responsible for various skin problems including cancer.
While sesame seed oil protects against as much as 30 percent of UV rays, coconut oil, olive oil, and peanut oil block 20 percent. They contain a high quantity of the skin’s protective lipid squalene. Wheatgerm oil, rich in vitamin E, acts as an antioxidant and also counters the aging effects of sun exposure. Rosehip seed oil or extract can also offer significant photoprotection due to its vitamin C content. Aloe vera gel can be applied after a shower and even after sun exposure. It also helps with new cell growth.10
Besides these oils, grape seed-derived proanthocyanidin (OPC) when used as a pre-exposure cream reduces sunburn.11
The Chinese apply black tea that is moistened and cooled to sunburn-affected skin to soothe it. The catechins in tea can prevent skin damage from radiation.12
Whether you choose to stay out of the sun, cover up, or use natural alternatives, avoiding exposing your body to too many chemicals, whether it is from sunscreens or other products, is always a good idea.
|↑1||Thoma, Marie E., Alexander C. McLain, Jean Fredo Louis, Rosalind B. King, Ann C. Trumble, Rajeshwari Sundaram, and Germaine M. Buck Louis. “Prevalence of infertility in the United States as estimated by the current duration approach and a traditional constructed approach.” Fertility and sterility 99, no. 5 (2013): 1324-1331.|
|↑2, ↑6||Tavares, Renata S., Fátima C. Martins, Paulo J. Oliveira, João Ramalho-Santos, and Francisco P. Peixoto. “Parabens in male infertility—Is there a mitochondrial connection?.” Reproductive Toxicology 27, no. 1 (2009): 1-7.|
|↑3||Chen, Minjian, Rong Tang, Guangbo Fu, Bin Xu, Pengfei Zhu, Shanlei Qiao, Xiaojiao Chen et al. “Association of exposure to phenols and idiopathic male infertility.” Journal of hazardous materials 250 (2013): 115-121.|
|↑4||The Endocrine Society. “Some sunscreen ingredients may disrupt sperm cell function.” ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160401111847.htm (accessed May 16, 2016).|
|↑5, ↑9||Crinnion, Walter J. “Toxic effects of the easily avoidable phthalates and parabens.” Alternative Medicine Review 15, no. 3 (2010): 190-197.|
|↑7||Bao-Liang, Song, Li Hai-Ying, and Peng Dun-Ren. “In vitro spermicidal activity of parabens against human spermatozoa.” Contraception 39, no. 3 (1989): 331-335.|
|↑8||Song, B. L., D. R. Peng, H. Y. Li, G. H. Zhang, J. Zhang, K. L. Li, and Y. Q. Zhao. “Evaluation of the effect of butyl p-hydroxybenzoate on the proteolytic activity and membrane function of human spermatozoa.” Journal of reproduction and fertility 91, no. 2 (1991): 435-440.|
|↑10||Korać, Radava R., and Kapil M. Khambholja. “Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation.” Pharmacognosy reviews 5, no. 10 (2011): 164.|
|↑11||OPC-Proanthocyanidin. A Total Wellness Newsletter. Wellness Advocate. 1994 4:1–4.|
|↑12||Duke JA. The green pharmacy: New discoveries in herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world’s foremost authority on healing herbs. New York: St. Martin Press; 1997|