Occurrences, toxicities, and ecological risks of benzophenone-3, a common component of organic sunscreen products: a mini-review

Environ Int. 2014 Sep;70:143-57. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2014.05.015. Epub 2014 Jun 14.


Benzophenone-3 (BP-3) has been widely used in sunscreens and many other consumer products, including cosmetics. The widespread use of BP-3 has resulted in its release into the water environment, and hence its potential impact on aquatic ecosystem is of concern. To better understand the risk associated with BP-3 in aquatic ecosystems, we conducted a thorough review of available articles regarding the physicochemical properties, toxicokinetics, environmental occurrence, and toxic effects of BP-3 and its suspected metabolites. BP-3 is lipophilic, photostable, and bioaccumulative, and can be rapidly absorbed via oral and dermal routes. BP-3 is reported to be transformed into three major metabolites in vivo, i.e., benzophenone-1 (BP-1), benzophenone-8 (BP-8), and 2,3,4-trihydroxybenzophenone (THB). BP-1 has a longer biological half-life than its parent compound and exhibits greater estrogenic potency in vitro. BP-3 has been detected in water, soil, sediments, sludge, and biota. The maximum detected level in ambient freshwater and seawater is 125ng/L and 577.5ng/L, respectively, and in wastewater influent is 10,400ng/L. The major sources of BP-3 are reported to be human recreational activities and wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluents. BP-3 and its derivatives have been also detected in fish lipid. In humans, BP-3 has been detected in urine, serum, and breast milk samples worldwide. BP-1 has also been detected in placental tissues of delivering women. While sunscreens and cosmetics are known to be major sources of exposure, the fact that BP-3 has been detected frequently among young children and men suggests other sources. An increasing number of in vitro studies have indicated the endocrine disrupting capacity of BP-3. Based on a receptor binding assay, BP-3 has shown strong anti-androgenic and weak estrogenic activities but at the same time BP-3 displays anti-estrogenic activity as well. Predicted no effect concentration (PNEC) for BP-3 was derived at 1.32μg/L. The levels observed in ambient water are generally an order of magnitude lower than the PNEC, but in wastewater influents, hazard quotients (HQs) greater than 1 were noted. Considering limited ecotoxicological information and significant seasonal and spatial variations of BP-3 in water, further studies on environmental monitoring and potential consequences of long-term exposure in aquatic ecosystem are warranted.

Keywords: Benzophenone-1; Endocrine disruption; Surface water; UV filter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzophenones / analysis*
  • Benzophenones / toxicity*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / analysis
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Seafood / analysis
  • Sunscreening Agents / analysis*
  • Sunscreening Agents / toxicity*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity


  • Benzophenones
  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Sunscreening Agents
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • benzophenone