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July 28, 2021—San Diego, CA – Summer time means spending time outside soaking up the sun and that also means using sunscreen to protect us.  This summer has set records for the heat and consumers should be aware that a popular brand of sunscreen has been recalled due to a benzene hazard.

Johnson & Johnson recently announced that it’s recalling five of its aerosol sunscreen line of products due to a benzene contamination problem.

The company issued this statement on the use of their sunscreen products: “would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences,” it decided on recalling the sunscreen products “out of an abundance of caution.”

“While benzene is not an ingredient in any of our sunscreen products, it was detected in some samples of the impacted aerosol sunscreen finished products,”  They went on to say: “daily exposure to benzene in these aerosol sunscreen products at the levels detected in our testing would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences.”  However, according to the World Health Organization benzene is a major public health concern.

It lists the acute health effects as follows:(link source at bottom of this article)

· Acute occupational exposure to benzene may cause narcosis: headache, dizziness, drowsiness, confusion, tremors and loss of consciousness. Use of alcohol enhances the toxic effect.

· Benzene is a moderate eye irritant and a skin irritant.

Benzene Cancer Risks:

·  Benzene is a well-established cause of cancer in humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified benzene as carcinogenic to humans.  Benzene causes acute myeloid leukemia (acute non-lymphocytic leukemia), and there is limited evidence that benzene may also cause acute and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Individuals who have experienced benzene poisoning requiring treatment show a substantially increased risk of mortality from leukemia.

How was benzene found in the sunscreen products?

While J&J does routinely test its products, this time it was an independent laboratory Valisure that tested J&J’s sunscreen products and 78 other manufacturers’ sunscreen products and found trace amounts of benzene in 294 batches.  

After reviewing Valisure’s study Johnson & Johnson voluntarily issued the recall for the following products:  Neutrogena ® Ultra Sheer body mist, Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen, Cool Dry Sport aerosol sunscreen, Invisible Daily Defense aerosol sunscreen, Ultra Sheer® aerosol sunscreen and Aveeno® Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen.

J&J isn’t sure about how the benzene made its way into the sunscreen products and a representative from the company said by email: “immediately began a comprehensive end-to-end investigation of our manufacturing process and raw materials, including internal testing and a thorough data review.”

Did the FDA Take Action against Johnson & Johnson?

The FDA doesn’t have the authority in recalling drug or consumer products, but will work with companies and allow for them to post company recall notices as a public service announcement. But some feel this is where the agency fails.  

According to Teresa Murray, U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog, said:

“This is another example of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration failing to protect consumers in a timely manner. Here we are, nearly two months after Valisure’s warning, and the FDA still hasn’t taken action. We shouldn’t have to wait for one of the companies themselves to recall potentially dangerous products. 

“We’re a month and a half past the big Memorial Day beach weekend that unofficially kicks off summer. How many consumers nationwide have unknowingly been using sunscreen that could cause cancer?

“The FDA has long said it doesn’t have the authority to recall over-the-counter drugs such as sunscreen unless the product label makes false claims. This needs to change. People’s health and safety are at risk every single day.” 

It’s clear that this recall has made the news headlines in the last week or so, and even though J&J has issued this sunscreen recall, legal actions may take place from consumers who may have been diagnosed with cancer from benzene exposure.

Johnson & Johnson has been sued numerous times and lost in court for defective medical devices, like its vaginal mesh product, baby powder products and its opioid painkillers.    

Sources:

https://www.who.int/ipcs/features/benzene.pdf

https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts/johnson-johnson-consumer-inc-issues-voluntary-recall-specific-neutrogenar-and-aveenor-aerosol

https://www.valisure.com/wp-content/uploads/Valisure-Citizen-Petition-on-Benzene-in-Sunscreen-and-After-sun-Care-Products-v9.7.pdf

https://uspirg.org/news/usp/statement-johnson-johnson-recalls-sunscreen-products-after-tests-detect-carcinogens