BACKGROUND: Benzophenone-3 (BP-3) and its major metabolite benzophenone-1 (BP-1) are widely used as UV filters in sunscreens and cosmetics to prevent sunburn and skin damage, or as stabilizers to prevent photodegradation in many commercial products. As a result, their presence is ubiquitous in the environment, wildlife and humans. Based on endocrine disruption concerns, international regulatory agencies are performing a closer evaluation.
OBJECTIVE AND METHODS: This work aimed to comprehensively review the available human relevant evidence for safety issues in MEDLINE/PubMed in order to create a structured database of studies, as well as to conduct an integrative analysis as part of the Human Biomonitoring for Europe (HBM4EU) Initiative.
RESULTS: A total of 1,635 titles and abstracts were screened and 254 references were evaluated and tabulated in detail, and classified in different categories: i) exposure sources and predictors; ii) human biomonitoring (HBM) exposure levels to perform a meta-analysis; iii) toxicokinetic data in both experimental animals and humans; iv) in vitro and in vivo rodent toxicity studies; and v) human data on effect biomarkers and health outcomes. Our integrative analysis showed that internal peak BP-3 concentrations achieved after a single whole-body application of a commercially available sunscreen (4% w/w) may overlap with concentrations eliciting endocrine disrupting effects in vitro, and with internal concentrations causing in vivo adverse female reproductive effects in rodents that were supported by still limited human data. The adverse effects in rodents included prolonged estrous cycle, altered uterine estrogen receptor gene expression, endometrium hyperplasia and altered proliferation and histology of the mammary gland, while human data indicated menstrual cycle hormonal alterations and increased risk of uterine fibroids and endometriosis. Among the modes of action reported (estrogenic, anti-androgenic, thyroid, etc.), BP-3 and especially BP-1 showed estrogenic activity at human-relevant concentrations, in agreement with the observed alterations in female reproductive endpoints. The meta-analysis of HBM studies identified a higher concern for North Americans, showing urinary BP-3 concentrations on average 10 and 20 times higher than European and Asian populations, respectively.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: Our work supports that these benzophenones present endocrine disrupting properties, endorsing recent European regulatory efforts to limit human exposure. The reproducible and comprehensive database generated may constitute a point of departure in future risk assessments to support regulatory initiatives. Meanwhile, individuals should not refrain from sunscreen use. Commercially available formulations using inorganic UV filters that are practically not absorbed into systemic circulation may be recommended to susceptible populations.