Benzene Has Been Detected in a Long List of Popular Sunscreens

Benzene Has Been Detected in a Long List of Popular Sunscreens featured image
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A recent test by online pharmacy Valisure found that a wide range of sunscreens and after-sun care products contained traces of benzene, a potentially dangerous carcinogen that, according to The American Cancer Society, is known to cause cancer.

In the test conducted by Valisure, 294 batches of sun-care products from 69 different companies were examined, and the results were astonishing. Per a recent petition released by the brand, the test found that 27 percent of the samples tested—the products included gels, sprays, after-sun creams and lotions—contained traces of benzene, while others had about three times the FDA-approved limit. To see the list of sunscreens that contain benzene, click here.

While benzene has been proven to cause health issues, cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos says it’s worth looking deeper into the full ingredient list before making a buying decision. “Benzene is not an ingredient purposefully added to sunscreen,” she says. “These results [from Valisure] are likely due to the presence of trace contaminants. Organic sunscreen molecules contain a structure called a benzene ring, and that part of the molecule is what helps the sunscreen absorb UV rays. It’s possible tiny amounts of trace benzene are present, but it is certainly not intentionally added. This study also showed some after-sun aloe gels, which do not contain any sunscreen actives had trace benzene levels, so it’s unclear that the sunscreen actives are the only source. Benzene rings are also found in many fragrances and preservatives such as sodium benzoate, so I think it’s worth looking deeper into the full ingredient compositions before panicking.”

On Instagram yesterday, cosmetic formulator Stephen Alain Ko shared similar thoughts to Dobos, saying “Before we all panic and lose our minds over benzene in sunscreen…You’re exposed to it when you shower, eat, go outside, stand near where someone has smoked, and drink water. Should we be reducing our exposure? Yes. Do I think you should stop using your sunscreen? If it’s part of the contaminated batch, why not. Will you ever reduce your exposure to zero? No.”

Ko also offers a few steps to take if your daily sunscreen was included on the FDA’s list of sunscreens that include the chemical: “Check if the sunscreen you use is listed in table two and three—the exact sunscreen, not just the brand. If the sunscreen you use is on the list, make sure the UPC, lot number, and expiration date match for that specific sunscreen. If it does match all three, I would stop using it, but hold on to it in case it gets recalled. Keep in mind that there’s potential variation in lots of batches.”

Although both Ko and Dobos stress that benzene is natural and can be found in many places through day-to-day life, Prospect, KY dermatologist Tami Buss Cassis, MD says, “Of course I am always concerned when extra chemicals and carcinogens are found. I hope that the individual companies will take this news seriously and provide excellent sunscreens threat are ultimately safe for us to use.”

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