They detect toxic substances from sunscreens in the umbilical cord

Researchers at the Institute for Environmental Diagnostics and Water Studies (CSIC) discovered 11 new chemical compounds, including UV filters from sunscreens and parabens, in samples of baby umbilical cords.

In a historic discovery, the Institute for Environmental Diagnostics and Water Studies (IDAEA-CSIC) found 11 different chemical compounds in cord blood samples collected from 69 newborns in Barcelona.

Sun creams contain some UV filters which can have harmful effects on the fetus and babies during their early stages. Likewise, parabens, present in most cosmetics, also pose a risk of adverse reactions. The results of the study show that it is possible for the compounds to pass from the mother to the fetus through the placental wall. This transfer process demonstrates the ability of such compounds.

The methodology used high-precision chemical analysis to identify UV filters and parabens, as well as to conduct more general investigations of other compounds. This is not the first time contamination has been detected in umbilical cords. In this case, 11 different compounds were discovered, some of which are commonly found in sunscreens.

Daily use of sunscreens and their impact on health and the environment

As these chemicals are becoming more widespread in our world, it is essential to consider the potential adverse impact they can have on human health and the environment. They are now found in a wide range of specimens, so it is very important to be aware of their presence.

In 17% of the umbilical cord samples we analyzed, we detected benzophenone-3 (oxybenzone), the most widely used UV filter in the world for sun protection and currently banned in some countries”, According to Sílvia Díaz-Cruz, researcher at IDAEA-CSIC and lead author of the study, this endocrine disruptor can cause reproductive problems such as endometriosis, infertility and other problems that can arise during pregnancy and childbirth.

This work detected avobenzone (found in 15% of the samples) for the first time in the umbilical cord. It is one of the UV filters present in our environment. This active ingredient is often found in sunscreens and other body lotions because of its excellent defense against UV rays. But it can also disrupt estrogen activity, which can contribute to childhood obesity.

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In addition, researchers identified large amounts of benzophenone-2 (53.3 ng/mL), which is a recognized endocrine disruptor. They had already observed it in human placenta and breast milk through previous research.

Regulate the limits of these contaminants

Díaz-Cruz emphasizes the levels of substances present in the umbilical cord samples, stating: “The problem with these compounds is that, because they are contaminants of recent detection and concern, the regulation has not established a limit value for human exposure.”. However, at the product level, cosmetic legislation requires that benzophenone-3 and avobenzone represent up to a maximum of 6% and 4% of the total weight of the product, respectively.

According to research results, the main method of absorption of these chemicals is through skin contact, although they can potentially be consumed through contaminated food or water or by breathing contaminated air. Among the other chemical substances detected for the first time in umbilical cords, an additive used in plastic containers known as MBM stands out. This antioxidant has raised some questions about safety.

Considering the limited number of samples in our work, these results should be interpreted as a preliminary reference to study the transfer of chemical compounds through the umbilical cord in a larger population.”, concludes Díaz-Cruz.

The authors emphasize the importance of carefully evaluating the long-term effects of these compounds, both on people and the environment, so that better regulations for their safe use can be established.


Diaz-Cruz, S. et al. “Target analysis and suspect screening of UV filters, parabens, and other chemicals used in personal care products in cord blood: prenatal exposure by mother-fetus transfer” International Environment (2023)


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