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Carcinogen Found in US Sunscreens - Should You Be Worried?

A private scientific investigation of hundreds of sunscreens and after-sun care products by the American virtual pharmacy called Valisure found that over a quarter of the samples they tested were contaminated by benzene, a known human carcinogen. Continue reading to find out everything you need to know about benzene and how it got into sun care products.

The study finds benzene in 78 sunscreens.

The survey tested 294 individual samples of sunscreens and after-sun products by 69 brands. Benzene, a known carcinogen, was found in 78 of the samples, with 14 products (mostly spray sunscreens) exceeding the regulated amount of the carcinogen. The researchers point out that some of the products they tested had three times the allowed FDA limit of benzene.
Benzene Sunscreens cream

What is benzene and how did it get into the sun care products? 

Benzene is an organic solvent, a type of substance used in the preparation of drugs or the cleaning of equipment in the pharmaceutical industry. Some of these solvents, including benzene, have a volatile nature and pose a danger for human health in higher-than-regulated concentrations. For benzene, this concentration is >2 parts per million (ppm). Studies in factory workers show that inhalation, ingestion, and skin or eye contact with benzene could be dangerous for one’s long-term health.

According to the ICH, a European medical agency that helps control pharmaceuticals, “Since there is no therapeutic benefit from residual solvents, all residual solvents should be removed to the extent possible to meet product specifications, good manufacturing practices, or other quality-based requirements.”

But sometimes, these solvents are not completely removed in the manufacturing process, and they end up in products. This is exactly what we see in some of the sunscreens and after sun products, some of which are manufactured by reputable brands like Neutrogena, EltaMD, and Banana Boat. For a full list of sun care products tested by the lab, click here. Valisure, the company that initiated the study, filed a petition for the recall of the sunscreens that contained high concentrations of benzene.

Should you be concerned?

While the FDA’s response to these findings is pending, the issue attracted a lot of public attention and speculation. Even though the allegations against these specific sun care products are concerning, it’s important to understand that benzene isn’t only present in sunscreens. In fact, the same online pharmacy found benzene in hand sanitizers.
Benzene Sunscreens

Overall, the presence of benzene in cosmetics seems to vary from batch to batch. Besides, all the studies that involved the carcinogenic activity of benzene were based on factory workers who inhaled and worked with this dangerous chemical for long periods of time. Compared to this, the exposure one gets by using sunscreen or hand sanitizer that contains 2 ppm of benzene is nothing.

Even more importantly, though, these findings should not deter you from using sunscreen. As the company’s own news release pointed out, “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.”
Let’s not forget that these harmful effects include skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the United States. As Dr. Adam Friedman, a board-certified dermatologist pointed out in a statement, “It only takes one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence to nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, later in life.”
The bottom line is, don’t let these findings discourage you from wearing any of the numerous safe sunscreens and protecting your skin from cancer-causing UV rays.
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