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Sunscreen Recalls and What You Should Know

September 15, 2021 by Adam.lueken

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As you may have seen in the news, there have been a number of stories and announcements about sunscreen recalls and specific products being called out. The health and safety of our patients are of utmost importance to us, so here is some additional information about what’s happening and how you can stay safe.

Recently, Johnson & Johnson recalled five Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreen products after small traces of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, were found. Although the company says that such low levels of benzene are not expected to cause health issues, out of caution it has asked consumers to avoid using:

  • Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen
  • Neutrogena CoolDry Sport aerosol sunscreen
  • Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense aerosol sunscreen
  • Neutrogena UltraSheer aerosol sunscreen.
  • Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen

Specific lots of all recalled Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreens can be found here, and you can call with questions and request a refund by completing this form, or calling (800) 458-1673. CVS has 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, also due to the discovery of small amounts of benzene.

The recalls and pauses in sales came after Valisure, a pharmaceutical testing company, tested 294 samples from 69 different brands of sunscreen, lotions and sprays. They found 78 samples tested positive for benzene, and that the issue is likely rooted in specific batches, not the brand formulas. Their full list of contaminated products can be found here and includes brands such as Johnson & Johnson, CVS Health, Coppertone, Walgreens and more.

What is Benzene?

Benzene is found naturally in cure oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke. It’s also used in the production of a variety of dyes, pesticides, plastics, rubbers and detergents. The largest sources occur from vehicle exhaust and burning coal or oil. Exposure to very high levels of benzene in the air for a prolonged time can cause health problems and in some cases, death. The effects of benzene contamination in food or drinks aren’t fully known, and skin contact with benzene has been known to cause redness or sores. The American Cancer Society also says “benzene has been known to cause cancer, based on studies in both people and animals. The link between breathing in benzene and cancer has largely focused on leukemia and other cancers of blood cells.” Rates of leukemia have been shown to be higher in studies of workers exposed to high levels of airborne benzene, such as those in the chemical, shoemaking and oil refining industries.

Benzene in Sunscreen

It’s not known how benzene ended up in these sunscreen products. It’s not an active ingredient, so some experts speculate that contamination could have occurred during the manufacturing process.

It’s important to note that there is no scientific link to developing cancer or other benzene-related side effects from contaminated sunscreen at this point, as concern around benzene’s cancer-causing properties has been focused on chronic inhalation or ingestion.

When it comes to sunscreen, experts say that potential side effects could be possible from chronic exposure over an extended period of time. So if an avid sunscreen user applied a benzene-exposed product continually for years, issues stemming from benzene would be more likely than just using an exposed product recently for a brief period. Minimum exposure to your skin over a short time is unlikely to cause harm.

Staying Safe

In this uncertainty, you may be tempted to not use sunscreen at all when out in the sun. But that’s not a good idea. Skin cancer is still on the rise and is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Continually being out in the sun for an extended amount of time without protection can increase your chances of developing it. If you’re concerned about the products mentioned, there are still plenty of sunscreens available that are not included on Valisure’s exposure list.

This appears to be more of a contamination issue rather than an overall sunscreen issue. To quote Cambridge, MA dermatologist, Ranella Hirsch, MD – “Contaminations happen and mechanisms exist for this very thing. An individual make and car can have a part recalled, but you aren’t likely to stop driving.”

Again, benzene isn’t an active ingredient in sunscreen and similar products, so the contamination was likely an accident or manufacturing oversight. Hopefully, these companies will be able to clear this issue up in the near future. And right now, there’s no clear evidence that the levels of benzene found in some sunscreens will put you at high risk of complications. It’s recommended to still keep using sunscreen as an essential tool for preventing skin cancer.

In the meantime, use alternative sunscreens rather than the identified or recalled products, continue to monitor other recall news and check Valisure’s list to know which products have shown to have benzene contamination.

If it’s not possible to use sunscreen, take other measures to protect your skin such as wearing hats and clothing to cover your skin, seeking shade and avoiding the sun at its peak times (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). If wanting to tan, consider sunless tanning lotions.

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