The study—which was conducted at Lomonosov Moscow State University—found that the combination of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and chlorinated water cause ingredients in sunscreens to break down and produce toxic chemicals. These chemicals have been associated with causing immune system damage, infertility, and even cancer.
The world’s most popular sun-blocker, avobenzone, was the focus of the study. Researchers found the ultraviolet filter—which is commonly used in sunscreens, moisturizers, lip balms, and other cosmetic products—actually breaks down in chlorinated water.
“A generally safe compound transforms in the water and forms more dangerous products,” Researcher Dr. Albert Lebedev said.
Acetyl benzenes and phenols are two of the chemicals produced from the interaction; both of which are distinctly toxic.
Swimming pools that use copper salts to give the water its blue appearance, can spawn an even more harmful reaction. The copper salts cause ingredients in the sunscreen to break down into bromoform, a substance that has been linked to liver problems, kidney problems, and nervous system disorders.
“It’s really important that we keep on scrutinizing the chemicals that we use on the skin, so this certainly needs to be looked into very carefully,” said Dr Emma Wedgeworth, British Skin Foundation spokesperson.
“However, we know for certain that sun exposure is linked to skin cancers and that sunscreen, as part as safe sun behavior, can help reduce the risks of skin cancers. So I would urge people not to have a knee jerk reaction and avoid sunscreen altogether.”
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