WASHINGTON — On Sunday, Edgewell Personal Care Company issued a voluntary recall of three lots of Banana Boat sunscreen products after benzene, a known carcinogen, was found in one of their popular sprays.
Benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer, has been detected in Banana Boat Hair & Scalp Spray SPF 30. There is no safe limit for human exposure to benzene. Exposure can be through inhalation, orally, and through the skin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says benzene can potentially lead to cancers, including leukemia and blood cancers of the bone marrow, and blood disorders that can be life-threatening.
Benzene is not intentionally added as an ingredient in sunscreen formulations, so it is not listed on product labels. But it can contaminate products during manufacturing.
“The Food and Drug Administration should create safety precautions and a harmful substance testing program to prevent chemicals like benzene in everyday products like sunscreen,” said the EWG’s lead scientist David Andrews, Ph.D. “But the agency does not require companies to test their products for contamination. Rather, it relies on third parties or manufacturers to identify malicious products after they are already on the market and in widespread use.”
In June, the FDA reported that while the source of benzene contamination in aerosol products is unknown, it could be due to contamination from inactive, petroleum-derived ingredients such as thickeners, spray propellants, and antifungal preservatives.
In its press release on the findings and recall, Edgewell said, “Although benzene is not a component of Banana Boat products, the review showed that unexpected levels of benzene are from the propellant that sprays the product out of the can.”
Aerosol sunscreens have been found to be heavily contaminated with benzene, leading to potential exposure risks for anyone using them. Sunscreen sprays can seem easier and more appealing to apply for kids who are constantly moving. But in addition to concerns about benzene exposure, these products may not cover the skin enough to provide adequate sun protection.
Edgewell, in its press release, advised consumers to immediately stop using the affected sunscreen spray and dispose of the product appropriately.
“For 16 years, EWG has warned consumers about the health hazards associated with harmful ingredients used in sunscreen,” said Emily Spilman, Scientific Analyst for Healthy Living at EWG. “In that time, we’ve seen a significant increase in sunscreen sprays. More than 250 sunscreen sprays were reviewed in the 2022 Guide to Sunscreens.”
In May 2021, an independent laboratory published a chemical analysis of 294 batches of sunscreen and after-sun care products from 69 brands. According to the lab, 27 percent of the batches had detectable levels of benzene, which the FDA restricted for use in sunscreen because of its “unacceptable toxicity.”
In July 2021, Johnson & Johnson, which owns Aveeno and Neutrogena, issued a recall for certain aerosol sunscreens, although it said daily exposure to their contaminated sunscreen “is not expected to result in any adverse health outcomes.”
However, Consumer Reports received an internal FDA health risk assessment in December 2021, a week before Johnson & Johnson’s recall, which came to a different conclusion. According to the report, “life-threatening” health hazards and “permanent impairment of a bodily function” could result from use of the company’s contaminated sunscreen.
“We expect the FDA to finalize its new sun protection regulations this fall,” said Melanie Benesh, EWG’s vice president of government affairs. “The authority must prevent contaminated or unsafe products from reaching the consumer in the first place. We hope the FDA will require and set deadlines for manufacturers to test their sunscreens for contaminants like benzene. Whatever the source, benzene does not belong in consumer products.”
Tips to protect your family
The benzene contamination of some sunscreens shouldn’t put anyone off protecting themselves in the sun and wearing sunscreen when needed.
When choosing a product:
- To reduce inhalation risk and minimize potential benzene exposure, choose a lotion over a spray or powder – they pose an inhalation risk and may provide inadequate protection.
- If you must use a pump or spray, apply sunscreen to your hands first and then wipe it on your or your child’s skin for even sun protection.
- Avoid SPF levels above 50, which give a false sense of security and can lead to overexposure to high levels of sunscreen chemicals.
Shoppers can also visit the Skin Deep® database or download EWG’s Healthy Living App for reviews and safety information on sunscreen and other personal care products. The EWG sunscreen label decoder can also help consumers looking for safer sunscreen products.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique educational tools, EWG advances consumer choice and citizenship.