Summer temperatures and summer activities require good care of your skin. Proper and frequent use of broad spectrum sunscreens is essential for protection for your skin from harmful UV rays and from burns and potential sunburn pain. While using sunscreens you should be aware that a number of Neutrogena and Aveeno products have been voluntarily recalled by their manufacturer. These companies recently pulled several sunscreens from market shelves after independent testing had found they were contaminated with a cancer-causing chemical called benzene. The National Cancer Institute has stated that exposure to benzene increases the risk of developing leukemia and other blood disorders. CVS Health also stopped selling two of its after-sun care products due to similar findings.
The vast majority of tested sunscreens, however, were free of benzene, and experts stress the importance of sunscreen use to protect skin from the aging and cancerous effects of the sun.
All batches, or lots, of these four Neutrogena spray sunscreens and one Aveeno spray were voluntarily recalled this week by parent company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) “out of an abundance of caution”:
Neutrogena® Beach Defense® aerosol
Neutrogena® Cool Dry Sport aerosol
Neutrogena® Invisible Daily™ defense aerosol
Neutrogena® Ultra Sheer® aerosol
Aveeno® Protect + Refresh aerosol
Benzene is not an ingredient in any of these sunscreen products, but it was detected in some samples of the impacted aerosol sunscreen finished products. The manufacturer of these products is recommending that consumers should stop using these specific products and appropriately discard them.
Specific lots of all recalled Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreens can be found here , and customers can call with questions and request a refund by completing this form, or calling 1-800-458-1673.
CVS also stopped selling CVS Health After Sun Aloe Vera and CVS Health After Sun Aloe Vera Spray a day after the Johnson & Johnson recall was announced. CVS Health’s corporate communications, told CNN the company is “cooperating with Johnson & Johnson’s voluntary recall.”
“CVS products have not been recalled,” but the company has paused sales of the two CVS products, which tested positive for benzene, “out of an abundance of caution.” CVS Health is working with the supplier of the products to “take appropriate additional steps.”
Why were the sunscreens recalled?
The voluntary recalls and pause in sales came after an independent lab tested 294 samples from 69 brands of sprays, lotions, gels and creams designed to protect the skin from the sun or care for the skin after sun. Of those, 78 samples tested positive for benzene.
Contamination appeared in specific batches of sunscreen, rather than a specific brand, said David Light, CEO and founder of Valisure, the independent lab that ran the tests. “The finding of benzene in sunscreen was certainly surprising to me as a scientist and a consumer. I’m quite a heavy user of sunscreen myself; I have five kids and we all use sunscreen, so it was rather concerning to find such high levels,” Light said.
Multiple samples contained “significantly detectable benzene and some batches contained up to 3.1 times the conditionally restricted limit,” according to the citizen petition asking for action that Valisure filed with the US Food and Drug Administration. “We petitioned the FDA to recall or to request recalls of the products that are 0.1 per million and above,” Light told CNN. “It’s obvious that we shouldn’t be taking that risk, and we just wanted it cleaned up.”
Samples of three of the recalled Neutrogena spray sunscreens — Beach Defense, Invisible Daily and Ultra Sheer — and one CVS brand — After-sun Aloe Vera Soothing Spray — had levels of benzene that were 2 parts per million or higher, according to Valisure’s tests. Another spray, Neutrogena’s Cool Dry Sport, and CVS Health’s After-sun Aloe Vera Moisturizing Gel, tested at .01 to 2 parts per million of benzene in some samples. Aveeno’s Protect + Refresh aerosol, which was the fifth sunscreen recalled by J&J, was not tested by Valisure.
Samples of three Banana Boat products also contained levels of benzene at those levels: Kids Max Protect & Play Sunscreen C-Spray SPF 100, UltraMist Deep Tanning Dry Oil Continuous Clear Spray SPF 4 and Ultra Sport Clear Sunscreen Spray SPF 100.
The sunscreens tested by Valisure were only a tiny sample of the more than 11,000 registered sun care products on the market. The Personal Care Products Council, an industry association, said its members were “firmly committed” to providing products with “ingredients that have been thoroughly tested for safety and follow the requirements of the law.” “We are aware of the study reporting the presence of benzene in some of the sunscreen products tested,” the council said in a statement. “There is nothing more important than safety. If our consumers can’t believe in a product or rely on it to do what it says, then nothing else matters.”
What is benzene?
Benzene is a natural component of crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke and ranks in the top 20 chemicals used for production of “lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides,” as well as “plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At room temperature, benzene is a colorless or light yellow liquid with a sweet odor. Highly flammable, it will float on water, and while it evaporates quickly, it is heavier than air and can sink into low-lying areas, the CDC noted.
Gas emissions from volcanoes and forest fires are natural sources of benzene, but the largest sources are emissions from burning coal and oil, motor vehicle exhaust, and evaporation from gasoline service stations, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
Exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause death, the ATSDR says, but the impacts of eating foods or drinking liquids containing lower levels of benzene are not known. “If you spill benzene on your skin, it may cause redness and sores. Benzene in your eyes may cause general irritation and damage to your cornea,” the ATSDR said.
Cigarette smoke and off-gassing from furniture wax, detergents, glue and paint are sources of indoor exposure to benzene, according to the CDC, while outdoor air can be polluted with benzene from “gas stations, motor vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions.”
How did benzene get into sunscreens?
No one knows for sure how the toxin ended up in sun care products. Benzene was not an ingredient in any of the sunscreens, so experts suspect contamination had to have occurred during the manufacturing process.
“There are a lot of theories,” said Scott Faber, the senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit consumer health advocacy group which puts out a yearly guide to safe sunscreens.
“Benzene could be a byproduct of the process of making the chemicals that companies sell to the formulators of personal care products and sunscreens. Or it could be that some of those chemicals break down into benzene, although that seems less likely,” Faber said.
“But it’s very alarming, especially since the FDA does not require companies to test ingredients for contaminants, nor does it require testing for such chemicals at a finished product stage,” he added.
What is the FDA doing?
In response to Valisure’s petition, the FDA told CNN that it “evaluates and assesses the information provided in citizen petitions of this type and, generally, initiates an independent testing and verification process.”
“While the FDA evaluates the citizen petition submitted by Valisure, we will continue to monitor sunscreen manufacturing and marketing to help ensure the availability of safe sunscreens for U.S. consumers,” an FDA spokesperson said.
Benzene is not the only concern when it comes to sunscreen. A number of sunscreens have been shown to be ineffective or contain chemicals that can enter the bloodstream and disrupt hormones. In EWG’s 2021 guide to sunscreens, they analyzed over 1,800 products and found that 75% did not provide adequate sun protection — or included ingredients linked to harm. Still, there were over 200 products that did meet their safety standards.
All of this uncertainty may leave consumers unsure of what to do, and experts worry some may forgo the use of sunscreen altogether. But, experts warned, that’s an even worse idea. Melanoma, one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer, has been on the rise globally for decades. And while survival rates are getting better, melanoma is still the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States.
And of course, it’s always a great choice to use common sense practices as well to protect your skin from harmful rays. Wear shorts, shirts, pants and hats to help block dangerous rays and apply safe sunscreens to exposed skin. Wisely choose your time in the sun by avoiding the most intense rays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and seek shade whenever possible.
Dr. Angela Moore and Arlington Center for Dermatology offer a number of safe, Benzene-FREE, sunscreens that are just right for you and your family. Ask your provider about which sunscreen would be best for you.
Source: CNN July 17, 2021 Sandee LaMotte