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Benzene found in some sunscreen products, online pharmacy says


Valisure, an online pharmacy known for testing every batch of medication it sells, announced that it has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to recall 40 batches of sunscreens and after-sun products they say tested for high levels of the chemical benzene.

The company tested 294 batches from 69 companies and found benzene in 27% – many in major national brands like Neutrogena and Banana Boat. Some batches contained as much as three times the emergency FDA limit of 2 parts per million.

Long-term exposure to benzene is known to cause cancer in humans.

“This is especially concerning with sunscreen because multiple FDA studies have shown that sunscreen ingredients absorb through the skin and end up in the blood at high levels,” said David Light, CEO of Valisure.

The FDA is seeking more information about the potential risks from common sunscreen ingredients.

“There is not a safe level of benzene that can exist in sunscreen products,” Christopher Bunick, MD, PhD, associate professor of dermatology at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., said in Valisure’s FDA petition. “The total mass of sunscreen required to cover and protect the human body, in single daily application or repeated applications daily, means that even benzene at 0.1 ppm in a sunscreen could expose people to excessively high nanogram amounts of benzene.”

Valisure’s testing previously led to FDA recalls of heartburn medications and hand sanitizers.

Examining sunscreen’s environmental impact

Chemicals in sunscreen may be harmful to other forms of life, too. For years, scientists have been examining whether certain chemicals in sunscreen could be causing damage to marine life, in particular the world’s coral reefs. Specific ingredients, including oxybenzone, benzophenone-1, benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-benzylidene camphor, nano-titanium dioxide, nano-zinc oxide, octinoxate, and octocrylene, have been identified as potential risks.

Earlier this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine created a committee to review the existing science about the potential environmental hazards. Over the next 2 years, they’ll also consider the public health implications if people stopped using sunscreen.

Valisure’s announcement included this message: “It is important to note that not all sunscreen products contain benzene and that uncontaminated products are available, should continue to be used, and are important for protecting against potentially harmful solar radiation.”

Using sunscreen with SPF 15 every day can lower risk of squamous cell carcinoma by around 40% and melanoma by 50%. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

A version of this article first appeared on

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