Two months after an independent lab, Valisure, released its report, Johnson & Johnson voluntarily recalled five of its products that tested positive for benzene, a known carcinogen.
Pharmaceutical testing company Valisure discovered 78 sunscreen products containing benzene, the highest levels of which were found in Neutrogena, Sun Bum, CVS Health and Fruit of the Earth products.
Two months after the report was released, Johnson & Johnson voluntarily recalled five of their products that tested positive for benzene, while the FDA considers what action they may take.
Most of the products positive for benzene were aerosol sunscreen products. One expert warns applying any aerosolized sunscreen product indoors may carry significant risk.
Research by the FDA demonstrates your body absorbs at least six of the active ingredients the agency tested, including oxybenzone that enhances the ability of other chemicals to penetrate the skin.
It is important to balance sun exposure to optimize vitamin D and protect your skin from sunburns. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are generally recognized as safe and effective when they are not nanosized.
Beauty is big business. So, when a company that sells cosmetics volunteers to recall their products, it’s an indication that something is drastically wrong. Johnson & Johnson announced in July they were recalling five of their aerosol sunscreen products after an independent lab found benzene contamination in them in May. Another company whose products were found to contain benzene, CVS, followed by stopping sales of two of their sun products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published an announcement of Johnson & Johnson’s voluntary withdrawal with this caveat at the top of the release:
“When a company announces a recall, market withdrawal, or safety alert, the FDA posts the company’s announcement as a public service. FDA does not endorse either the product or the company.”
Unfortunately, with this attitude, the FDA not only has earned itself a reputation for having a lack of oversight, but has allowed products to be sold without basic safety testing of the ingredients. Sunscreen is just one of those products that fly under the radar until something either goes wrong or is investigated by outside agencies.
In this case, independent pharmaceutical testing company Valisure tested hundreds of sunscreen products and discovered that 78 of them contained benzene, a known carcinogen.
This data, which triggered the Johnson & Johnson recall, is not the first to identify health problems, both human and environmental, that may be associated with sunscreen use.
In fact, it was found that a different common ingredient in sunscreen — oxybenzone — damages coral reefs by causing deformities and bleaching. The equivalent of just one drop in 6.5 Olympic sized swimming pools is enough to cause damage.
In Hawaii and the Caribbean, the levels of oxybenzone in the water is 12 times higher than the concentrations that cause damage to baby coral, which triggered the governor of Hawaii to sign a bill in 2018 to ban sunscreens that harm the coral reefs. The law took effect January 1, 2021, despite critics’ claims that doing so reduced the availability of sunscreen ingredients for humans.
Hawaii has now proposed banning two more chemicals, avobenzone and octocrylene. If enacted, it will go into effect January 1, 2023. Hawaii’s actions have inspired Aruba, the Marshall Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands and Key West to pass their own sunscreen bans.
Benzene detected in 78 different products
In the featured independent study, pharmaceutical testing company Valisure released a citizen’s petition May 24, which contained the results of their tests on 294 batches of 69 brands of sunscreen. The tests revealed benzene in 78 of the sunscreens and after-sun products tested.
According to the citizens’ petition, the highest levels of benzene were found in Neutrogena, Sun Bum, CVS Health and Fruit of the Earth products. Not all these brands’ products contained benzene, but the ones that did had at least 2 parts per million (ppm) or higher. One of the Neutrogena products, Ultra-Sheer Weightless Sunscreen Spray SPF 100 + contained 6.7 ppm.
The specific Johnson & Johnson products recalled are:
Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen
Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport aerosol sunscreen
Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense aerosol sunscreen
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreen
Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen