Human Interest

A young woman places sunscreen on her friend while they sunbath on the beach during a heatwave.

Traces of a chemical tied to blood cancers including leukemia have been detected in dozens of popular sunscreens and after-sun products, according to tests conducted by online pharmacy and lab Valisure, CBS News reports.

Benzene, a known carcinogen, was found in 78 of nearly 300 sprays and lotions tested including products sold by Banana Boat, Neutrogena and CVS, according to Valisure’s tests. In a petition made public, Valisure asks the FDA to recall the contaminated batches, they are awaiting the FDA’s review. Sunscreens and after-sun products are classified as cosmetics, which are usually subject to FDA regulation.

The FDA told the news outlet via a statement, “The FDA takes seriously any safety concerns raised about products we regulate, including sunscreen.”

The chemical is identified as “a colorless or light-yellow liquid chemical at room temperature.” Valisure states that it’s been used “primarily as a solvent in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.” Trace levels of benzene can be found in cigarette smoke, gasoline, glues, adhesives, cleaning products and paint strippers.

Valisure also reported that 14 sun care products with the highest contaminations are sold across four popular brands — Neutrogena, Sun Bum, CVS Health and Fruit of the Earth. Not all of the aforementioned brands’ products were found to contain benzene, and a list of products safe from benzene has been published.

All of the samples tested have “contained up to three times the conditionally restricted FDA concentration limit of 2 parts per million” of benzene, according to Valisure’s website.

David Light, the founder and CEO of Valisure said, “Benzene is one of the most studied and concerning human carcinogens known to science. Its association with forming blood cancers in humans has been shown in numerous studies at trace levels of parts per million and below. The presence of this known human carcinogen in products widely recommended for the prevention of skin cancer and that are regularly used by adults and children is very troubling.” Light also urges the FDA to better define its standards for contamination, and “address current regulatory gaps regarding benzene in both drug and cosmetic products.”

Valisure is encouraging people to send in their own samples of sunscreen and sun care products for evaluation.

Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Neutrogena products, told CBS News that “benzene is not an ingredient in any of our personal care products.”

Banana Boat also defended its products, stating that “our sun care products undergo rigorous testing to ensure safety and quality and meet all FDA regulations.”

CVS said in a statement that products they sell are “safe” and “we are in the process of reviewing and evaluating information in and related to Valisure’s petition and we will respond accordingly.”

Sun Bum told the news outlet in a statement, “To further ensure the quality of our products, we will work with suppliers to understand how trace amounts may have been detected.”

Valisure stressed to consumers that they should not avoid using sunscreen after learning of their findings and should continue to do so with proper care.

Dr. Christopher Bunick, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Dermatology at Yale University said, “It is important for people, especially heading into the summer months, to understand that many sunscreen products tested by Valisure did not have benzene contamination, and those products are presumably safe and should continue to be used, along with appropriate hats and sun-protective clothing, to mitigate skin cancer risk.”

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