Good Question: What is Benzene and how do I know my sunscreen is safe?

Four Neutrogena spray sunscreens and one Aveeno spray sunscreen were voluntarily recalled out of an abundance of caution.
A handful of popular sunscreens have been recalled... because they had a chemical called benzene in them.
Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 8:58 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A handful of popular sunscreens have been recalled because they had a chemical called benzene in them.

There were four Neutrogena spray sunscreens and one Aveeno spray sunscreen. They were all voluntarily recalled, out of an abundance of caution.

But what is benzene - and how can you be sure your sunscreen is safe?

Jamie Boll asked Dr. Alyssa Daniel, a dermatologist from Novant Health.

Dr. Daniel: They found that benzene was in a good number of sunscreens and a lot of them, if you’re looking at common themes, were spray skin sunscreens. The important piece of it is that the companies did not know that those things were in their sunscreens.

Jamie: What is it about benzene, what makes it dangerous?

Dr. Daniel: So benzene is a compound that is usually produced in manufacturing of things that are coal or crude oil.  It can be naturally occurring with things like volcanic ash or forest fires, but for the most part when we’re talking about benzene and compounds. It’s a byproduct of manufacturing and the dangerous part of it is that it is considered a carcinogen, and so if we’re exposed to enough of it, there is proven, documented data that it can cause things like leukemias, for instance.

Jamie: So enough of it, I guess that’s the important thing here, right? We’re talking small amounts in the big picture of things, but still enough to be concerned.

Dr. Daniel: Well, we don’t know. So, that’s the important part of it is that no one has done studies clearly about exposing people to benzene for long periods of time over the summer putting on sunscreen. Most of us as parents are now trying to put sunscreen on our, especially young kids before camps every single day.  We don’t have that data to say what is a safe exposure level for children of, you know, two to six years old or from 6 and up in adults. We don’t have that data on hand.

Jamie: So what are you telling parents or even adults right now, who have been using this stuff?

Dr. Daniel: If you have one of the sunscreens that’s on that list, I would trash it. Then I would go to one of the ones where, you know, there are several that are listed that had no benzene located in them at all. So, that’s what I’m doing for myself and my own family is just trying to play it safe with the ones that we know at least now don’t have benzene that’s been documented in them.

Jamie: Are you worried at all that some folks might say I’m here in the middle of summer gonna avoid sunscreen?

Dr. Daniel: I think that there’s always going to be that concern of, if I’m using something for a cancer prevention and there’s something in it that could be then causing cancer, maybe I should just stop altogether. It’s just like a car seat is recalled. That doesn’t mean that we completely stop using car seats, it just means that we go to safer alternatives. Then the companies who are involved, I’m sure, on their end are going to try to figure out how it got in there and try to regain the trust of safe products that they’re putting on the shelf.

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