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Plasticizers in sunscreens: contamination has been known for years

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Plasticizers in sunscreens: contamination has been known for years

It caused a stir when it was said a month ago that children were “contaminated with banned plasticizers”. The State Office for Nature, Environment and Consumer Protection (Lanuv) NRW examined urine samples from around 250 kindergarten-age children for the hormone-like plasticizer di-n-hexyl phthalate (DnHexP): 61 percent of the samples from 2020 and 2021 contained it , three years earlier it was only 26 percent. Since the use of the plasticizer has been severely restricted since 2013 due to its harmful properties, no analyzes were carried out beforehand.

Following the results from children, the Federal Environment Agency (Uba) examined urine samples from adults for the substance. It has no longer been allowed to be used in cosmetics in the EU since 2019 – apart from the presence of unavoidable and harmless small quantities. The result: the substance was contained in every third sample. “The substance should not be on the market,” said Uba toxicologist Marike Kolossa. “You shouldn’t find a substance like that in your body, and we find it.”

Office detects substance in sunscreens

But how does the plasticizer come to be absorbed? The Uba found that samples taken in summer were more contaminated than those from other seasons. Suspicion also fell on sunscreen. In fact, the UV filter DHHB, manufactured by the chemical company BASF, contains the plasticizer DnHexP, as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung recently reported. The manufacturer writes in a patent from 2021 that the plasticizer is created as a contaminant during the production of DHHB and can harm fertility and unborn children. Therefore, the concentration of the by-product should be minimized. However, according to a report by “Spiegel”, BASF does not mention the contamination in a safety data sheet for DHHB.

According to current analyzes by the Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Office in Baden-Württemberg, DnHexP was detected in 21 of 57 sunscreens examined – the UV filter DHHB was also found in the affected products, which, however, was also contained in some sunscreens without DnHexP detection. The office has already examined cosmetics for various plasticizers, but not sunscreens, explains the Consumer Protection Ministry in Stuttgart. “Due to the data available on the UV filter DHHB, there was no reason to take this into account.”

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What does BASF say?

It is still unclear in what doses the plasticizer is absorbed by the skin. Upon request, BASF explains that it is unknown which products or sources are responsible for the appearance of the substance in the samples analyzed in North Rhine-Westphalia. “Various possible sources are being discussed and investigated,” explains a spokeswoman. “Based on the data currently available, no connection can be derived between sun protection and urine values.” The company “only markets products that meet the strict criteria for quality, safety and health.”

BASF also refers to a preliminary assessment recently published by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment. The institute explains that the concentrations of the plasticizer detected in urine samples “do not give rise to increased concern” – they are in a range that is also detected for other plasticizers. According to the Federal Institute’s assessment, the values ​​measured in 95 percent of the samples examined do not give rise to any cause for concern. Further studies make sense “in order to determine the source of the measured findings and, if necessary, eliminate them.”

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Toxicologist Holger Koch is more cautious. “I consider up to five percent of worrying cases, based on measured actual exposures, to be non-negligible,” says Koch, who works at the Bochum Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine of the German Statutory Accident Insurance. Exposure to other plasticizers could also lead to combination effects. “That would be on top.”

Koch is currently working on studies on the use of products that contain the UV filter DHHB – it is used in various cosmetics. It is clear that the current findings should not lead to people foregoing sun protection products. They reduce the risk of skin cancer. However, depending on what ongoing research reveals, products without DHHB could be beneficial.

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