Benzene in sunscreens

A number of products found to be contaminated with the carcinogen. Check if your product is on the list

Some sunscreen and after sun products sold in the US in 2020-2021 were found to be contaminated with benzene. These products are likely to be recalled from the market. Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause cancer, and benzene is recognized as a human carcinogen. If you find a product that you use, it is best to stop applying it. At the same time, you do not need to panic. Benzene can harm health only with long-term (over a year) and continuous exposure in high concentrations. Even if you have used a contaminated sunscreen, it is highly unlikely that your exposure to benzene is high enough to cause a concern. 

Here are the products that could be contaminated with benzene according to the report released by the laboratory Valisure in May 2021. The majority of sunscreens tested by the laboratory do not contain benzene. The laboratory has also confirmed that benzene detected in the products is a result of contamination. It is not produced by interaction of ingredients in the sunscreens, and normally is not contained in any of the ingredients used in sunscreens and cosmetics. 

Please note that only specific batches of the products were found to be contaminated.

  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Weightless Sunscreen Spray, SPF 100+

  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Weightless Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70

  • Sun Bum Cool Down Gel

  • Neutrogena Beach Defense Oil-Free Body Sunscreen Spray - SPF 100

  • CVS Health After-sun Aloe Vera Soothing Spray

  • Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Body Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 60+

  • Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera Gel

  • Raw Elements Eco Formula Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

  • CVS Health After-sun Aloe Vera Moisturizing Gel

  • SunBurnt Advanced After-Sun Gel

  • Goodsense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

  • Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray SPF 70

  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Spray

  • Banana Boat Kids Max Protect & Play Sunscreen CSpray SPF 100

  • Banana Boat UltraMist Deep Tanning Dry Oil Continuous Clear Spray SPF 4

  • Neutrogena Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 45

  • Banana Boat Ultra Sport Clear Sunscreen Spray SPF 100

  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Water Resistant Sunscreen SPF 70

  • Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray SPF 50

  • TopCare Everyday Ultimate Sheer Sunscreen Lotion SPF70

  • EltaMD UV Aero Broad-Spectrum Full-Body Sunscreen Spray, SPF 45

What is benzene?

Benzene is a hydrocarbon with the formula C6H6 . It is present in crude oil and is partially responsible for the smell at petrol stations. Benzene is formed in natural processes, for example volcanoes and forest fires. Tobacco smoke is a major source of benzene exposure. Benzene is widely used in the chemical industry. It ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume in the US. It is limited in consumer goods and drugs because it can be toxic. 

The US National Toxicology Program classifies benzene as “known to be a human carcinogen”. All routes of human exposure (inhalation, ingestion, skin absorption) pause a risk.

What should I do if I have used a contaminated product?

First of all, do not panic. Your exposure to benzene via an application of a contaminated product is less than you’d typically get while visiting a gas station. The only thing you should do is to stop using the potentially contaminated product.

Please note that it is crucial that you continue to protect your skin from the sun and use sunscreen. The benzene contamination has nothing to do with the sunscreen filters, and sunscreens overall are not more likely to be contaminated than a normal moisturizer, hand sanitizer or shampoo. 

Also, there is no reason to switch to brands that market themselves as "clean", "natural", or "chemical-free". Some of the products that were found to be contaminated with benzene position themselves as "clean" and "eco-friendly" (the affected brands together with Neutrogena and CVS Health include Fruit of the Earth and Raw Elements).

Sunscreens and after sun products that were tested and found not to contain benzene

The majority of products tested do not contain benzene. Some of the tested benzene-free sunscreens are below. You can find the full list here.