Just before Memorial Day, online pharmacy and laboratory Valisure announced that its testing had discovered benzene, a known carcinogen, in batches of 78 widely-available sunscreen and after-sun products. The business has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to recall these goods,, including batches from Neutrogena, Banana Boat, CVS Health, and other brands. More than three-quarters of the products are sprays.
Dr Christopher Bunick
“We’re asking our patients to put sunscreen on from 6 months of age, telling them to do it their entire life, their whole body, multiple times a day,” Christopher G. Bunick, MD, PhD, associate professor of dermatology at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., said in a interview. If benzene-contaminated sunscreen proves to be a prevalent problem, he said,”the benzene amounts can add up to a significant chronic exposure over a lifetime.”
In the Valisure statement declaring the findings, Bunick, who is also quoted in the petition, stated that”it is critical that regulatory agencies address benzene contamination in sunscreens, and all topical medications at the manufacturing and final product level, so that all individuals feel safe using sunscreen products.”
Benzene is not a component in sunscreen, also Valisure’s petition implies that the findings are due to contamination someplace in the manufacturing process, no matter product degradation.
Dr Adam Friedman
“This isn’t a sunscreen issue, it’s a manufacturing issue,” said Adam Friedman, MD, professor and chief of dermatology at George Washington University, Washington. “We don’t want those things to be blurred.”
When asked to comment on Valisure’s findings, an FDA spokesperson stated,”The FDA takes seriously any safety concerns raised about products we regulate, including sunscreen. While the agency evaluates the submitted citizen petition, we will continue to monitor the sunscreen marketplace and manufacturing efforts to help ensure the availability of safe sunscreens for U.S. consumers.”
Both Johnson & Johnson, Neutrogena’s parent company, and Banana Boat issued claims reiterating that benzene isn’t an ingredient in their products.
Assessing the Risks
There is a risk of patients taking away the wrong message from these findings.
“People already have ambivalence about sunscreen, and this is just going to make that worse,” Friedman said in a meeting. He pointed out that benzene is present in automobile exhaust, second-hand smoke, and elsewhere. Inhalation exposure has been the primary focus of toxicology investigations, as has exposure from ingesting items like polluted drinking water not via topical application. “We don’t know how effectively [benzene] gets through the skin, if it gets absorbed systemically, and how that then behaves downstream,” he noticed.
On the flip side, ultraviolet radiation is a well-established carcinogen.