Swiss researchers from the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Zurich have discovered that some sunscreens contain chemicals that mimic the effect of the human hormone estrogen.
The substances, benzophenon, octylmethoxycinnamate and methylbenzilidene camphor can interfere with the normal functions of estrogen and have been linked to breast cancer in humans. Evidence that they are a health concern from sunscreens is still lacking, but, as a precaution, the Danish government has ordered the removal of many well-known sunscreen creams from the market including Elisabeth Arden, Biotherm and Nivea Sun.
The Body shop has also decided to remove its own brand from the shelves. The Dutch Cosmetic Association is currently drawing up a list of all creams containing these substances. In Britain, the Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association, which represents sunscreen manufacturers, has done a study, not yet published, that shows no effect from these chemicals in rats.
Although the Swiss researchers are not advising people to ditch sunscreens completely, they do suggest that sunblocks like zinc oxide might make a healthier alternative. Anyone worried about their own sunscreen should consult the contents on the side of packaging.