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Benzene in Suncreen -- Spraying Sunscreen Onto Hand on the Beach

Answer:

Benzene, which has been linked to blood cancers, has been reported in a large number of sunscreens and after-sun products that were independently tested. The products included sprays, gels, lotions, and creams. Benzene was found in 43 out of 224 sunscreens and in 8 of 48 after-sun products. FDA guidance suggests that no level of benzene is safe, and it is not permitted in these or other products.

Among sunscreens, the highest average concentrations of benzene (2 ppm to 6 ppm) were in four sprays from the same brand -- although many other sprays and products from that brand had less or no detectable benzene. The next highest average concentrations of benzene (0.1 to 1 ppm) were in twelve products that were primarily sprays but included four lotions.

[UPDATE: 10/5/21: Coppertone announced the recall last week of 12 different lots of five aerosol sunscreen products that the company identified as containing benzene. These products were manufactured between January 10 and June 15, 2021, and were not among the Coppertone products tested and reported by Valisure, but we have added each of these and marked them as "Recalled" in our list.]

[UPDATE: 7/15/21: Johnson and Johnson announced the recall yesterday of all lots of 13 Neutrogena sunscreens and one Aveeno sunscreen, including seven that we had listed as contaminated and seven additional products (which have been added to our list). Internal testing by J&J identified low levels of benzene in some samples of these products. Each of these products is now marked "Recalled" in our list.]

After-sun products with the highest concentrations of benzene consisted of four gels and one spray. (Also see ConsumerLab's Review of Aloe Supplements, Gels and Drinks which includes tests of topical aloe products often used after sun exposure or for sunburn. One of the brands of aloe vera gel found to contain a high concentration of benzene also failed to pass ConsumerLab's tests for aloe vera.)

Active ingredients listed in contaminated products were also listed in products that were not contaminated — so you can't tell from these listed ingredients which products contain benzene. We don't know the source of the benzene, but it could relate to how a particular ingredient was manufactured, where it was sourced, or how it moved through the supply chain. Consequently, products having the same ingredients can be different with regard to benzene contamination.

ConsumerLab's staff has analyzed the results and identified which products we think should be avoided and which are safest with regard to benzene contamination. Sign in as a member to see the findings for more than 200 sunscreens and after-sun products.

Other compounds of concern in sunscreens:

Benzene is not the only compound of concern in sunscreens. Researchers have also found the compound, benzophenone, in popular sunscreens. Like benzene, benzophenone is a carcinogen but does not appear on product labels — although it is likely produced by a listed compound, octocrylene. For more details, and the names of products in which benzophenone has been found, see our article "Which compounds in sunscreen should I be concerned about?"

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82 Comments

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mary23582
October 20, 2021

What supplement can we take safely for sun protection, if any. I guess we need to wear sunscreen clothing, hats, long sleeve shirts, and sunglasses at all times. Perhaps the sun is not so bad for us.

ConsumerLab.com
October 20, 2021
Karen23524
October 11, 2021

Interesting that Coppertone has now added mineral sunscreens to the recall. I was hoping the mineral sunscreens would continue to be safe, but I guess not...

Karen23493
October 6, 2021

I’m surprised that some of the products in the red area are still being sold as if nothing has happened. Sun Bum for instance.

Elizabeth22992
July 18, 2021

What about Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Water Resistant Sunscreen SPF 100+? The SPF 70 is listed below, but not the 100, is it safe?

ConsumerLab.com
July 21, 2021

If a product that you use is not on the list (including different formulations or SPF strengths), we do not have information about it. You may, however, be able to submit the product for testing at no cost as part of Valisure's Sunscreen Crowdsourcing Study https://www.valisure.com/valisure-studying-sun-care-product-contamination-2/.

Patricia22987
July 18, 2021

To get a refund, this was posted on the Neutrogena website:

https://www.neutrogena.com/sunscreen-recall.html

I have one of the worst levels of Benzine. I plan on filling out the form. Wish me luck!

Gabriele22981
July 17, 2021

What about sun protecting lip balm that I have to use on my lips and wonder if my product contains this carcinogen. My sun product that I use on my face, ears and neck has passed, but I have no clue about the lip protection that I use, specifically made for lips. I had 2 melanomas removed in 2017 and really need to protect my skin, including lips!

ConsumerLab.com
July 21, 2021

If a product that you use is not on the list (including different formulations or SPF strengths), we do not have information about it. You may, however, be able to submit the product for testing at no cost as part of Valisure's Sunscreen Crowdsourcing Study https://www.valisure.com/valisure-studying-sun-care-product-contamination-2/.

Karen22965
July 16, 2021

What can we do with unopened products whose return window has passed? I tried contacting SunBum via their website but received no reply. I have three unopened bottles of the after sun gel, which I (used to) love. Thank you.

Matt22978
July 17, 2021

Get angry, start making phone calls

Mona
July 16, 2021

So I wonder, does this mean that the Fruit of the Earth aloe gel has contained Benzene since inception or for many years, OR only recent batches? I ask because my husband has used this product as an after-shave and hair gel for YEARS! Goodness gracious...

Thomas22989
July 18, 2021

yes, I have used also for years and thought it a good product without other additives (color, fragrance, etc.) Very disappointed. Carried by Walmart and available on Amazon. At least there are posted safe alternatives which should be readily available.

I have no financial interest in this or any other company. Just looking for safe products!

Joy22953
July 16, 2021

If we have any of these products on the recall list, do we return to the store for a refund? Also, have you tested the Trader Joe’s Spray Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum 50#?

ConsumerLab.com
July 16, 2021

Other than recalled products, we are not aware of special return instructions. You should contact the merchant from which you purchased the product. If you (or other CL members) learn of special return policies for these products, it would be appreciated if you would share that information with others here.

Laura22984
July 18, 2021

This would be good to know as Trader Joe's spray Sunscreen rated best in Consumer Reports.

Claudia22986
July 18, 2021

Costco has a recall notice for Nutregena Beach products. I returned mine yesterday for a full refund.

carol-ann22945
July 16, 2021

Thanks so much for your detailed work and putting the health of the public at large at the top of your concerns
Cheers
Carol-Ann

ConsumerLab.com
July 16, 2021

Glad to help. Thanks Carol-Ann.

Linda M.22956
July 16, 2021

Yes!!! I agree!! I have had consumerlab.com for several decades now, especially as a R.N. to give safe information to my patients when needed...AND for my family!!! Thank you consumerlab for ALL of your work. From a 3x breast Cancer survivor. Linda

ConsumerLab.com
July 19, 2021

Thank you for your kind words Linda. We are glad that we can be of help.

kate7consumes
July 30, 2021

God bless you Linda; as a survivor you are a special hero in your work. And God bless Consumer Lab for supporting all everyday heroes.

steven22941
July 16, 2021

A not-tested sunscreen that lists "Oxybenzone 6%" Is that a benzene hazard?

ConsumerLab.com
July 16, 2021

As we've noted elsewhere, oxybenzone is not a benzene hazard, but there are other possible concerns -- see our comment about this on May 25, 2021.

Nancy23489
October 6, 2021

What about Avobenzone is that product a concern?

ConsumerLab.com
October 12, 2021
Gail22934
July 16, 2021

I have a sun screen product that contains "alkyl benzoate". Is that benzene? Is it a carcinogen?

ConsumerLab.com
July 16, 2021

Alkyl Benzoate is not benzene. It is a synthetic skin conditioner an emollient. Typical use level 1-30%. For external use only. According to a Safety assessment of alkyl benzoates as used in cosmetics published in the Journal of Toxicology in 2012, carcinogenicity data were not available, but available data indicated that these alkyl benzoate cosmetic ingredients are not genotoxic. Also, were not reproductive or developmental toxicants, are not genotoxic in almost all assays, and are not carcinogenic. These ingredients were determined to be safe in the present practices of use and concentration. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23283706/

Carol 22933
July 16, 2021

Several days ago I bought Neutrogena Sheer Zinc dry touch sunscreen. Is zinc oxide safe? So much of what we use we have no idea it is harmful. It's is so scary that you can't trust any products. Thank you ConsumerLab for all the work you do for us! Carol

Rina22867
July 3, 2021

This is incredibly valuable and worth the cost of the subscription! My only wish is that this list was easier to use. I have referred back to it so many times over the last two weeks including standing in a store and the scrolling is nearly impossible. I wish you would separated it into different charts for dangerous and not detected and then have a separate section for sun aftercare.

I also desperately wish it was alphabetical. This would be a game changer to be able to use this list easily shopping in store or online. Is this possible for you to do and make it more user-friendly?? Please?

ConsumerLab.com
July 3, 2021

Sorry the table is not sortable, but the after-sun products are list comes after the sunscreens list. You can also search the page for any brand or product using a regular page search (such as control-F).

Richard22930
July 15, 2021

If you copy the table to an excel spreadsheet, you can then sort the table.

Dana22860
July 2, 2021

Is avobenzone a form of benzene?

ConsumerLab.com
July 2, 2021

No, it is not. See our answer to a similar question below.

Marina22706
June 4, 2021

I have Neutrogena Beach Defense water +sun protection Sunscreen Spray SPF 70. I only see the lotion in your list. Would ingredients be the same for the spray?

I only see avobenzone, and oxybenzon as active ingredients on the spray.

ConsumerLab.com
June 5, 2021

If this spray is not on the list, then it was not tested. It's not possible to say if it would yield the same results as the lotion.

Joan22948
July 16, 2021

I noted that most of the high benzene concentrations in the table were spray formulations.

Donald22954
July 16, 2021

I use the Neutrogena stick applicator with a 70 rating. There is no mention of any stick applicators on the whole chart as far as I could tell. Any comment?

ConsumerLab.com
July 16, 2021

We don't have information on products not already on the list. If more information becomes available, we plan to add it to this article and note in our newsletter.

Linda22695
June 3, 2021

Thank you ConsumerLab! I had heard about this issue and was relieved to check here and find the Neutrogena sunscreen I've used for years is in the green-shaded ND category.

Rebecca22686
June 2, 2021

I'm so glad I checked this list - I've been using Nature's Path aloe vera for a few years. I'm now worried about the amount of benzene in it. Is it in ALL of their batches?

ConsumerLab.com
June 2, 2021

Most of the results are based on a sample of one lot of each product. In cases where more than one lot was tested and showed benzene, than the average amount and range across lots is shown.

Chandra22936
July 16, 2021

Conversely, then, isn't it also possible that a batch that was tested and find ND, only represents the one lot from which it came and that other lots of the same sunscreen may in fact be contaminated? In that case, it seems best to avoid sunscreen use in favor of sun blocking clothing, shade, and minimizing exposure whenever possible until we have a clearer understanding of the path this contamination took and how to avoid it. Many of us have learned to apply sunscreen as part of our daily routine. It may be prudent to suspend that for the time being.

Pamela 22946
July 16, 2021

I’m inclined to agree. Until they find the cause of the contamination and responsibly take care of it, whether it be at the source of the ingredients or at the manufacturing level, we can’t be sure the next lot won’t be bad. Obviously it’s not just sunscreen that’s problematic, which to me, makes it worse. Quality control is definitely lacking.

Daniel22957
July 16, 2021

I think it would be useful to research how benzene is getting into these products. I have seen a number of other kinds of products that have benzene in them.

Rodney22676
May 30, 2021

I am sitting here holding Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 100+ recommended by the pharmacist - agghhh!!! The label says avobenzone 3% and oxybenzone 6% . I guess I'd better take the Consumer Lab list and head to the pharmacy before golfing and pickleball tomorrow. Thank you, Consumer Lab. RGR

Kurt22937
July 16, 2021

I have the same one. I did not see this product as being recalled. Based on the ingredients you mentioned, is that enough to trash it, even though it was not recalled.

merrilyn22995
July 18, 2021

As noted in a couple of comments/answers above, those two ingredients apparently are not forms of benzene.

Dawn22663
May 29, 2021

It's so depressing that we can't rely on/trust manufacturers to police their own products and make sure they can't harm us. Why can't they just do the right thing?

Peter22665
May 29, 2021

Follow the money.

elisabeth 22670
May 30, 2021

It is sad. We can stop supporting these manufactures financially by not buying ANY of their products. Greed is a powerful incentive for these companies but not near as powerful as a consumer’s wallet.

Marian22939
July 16, 2021

Please read the article carefully. The presence of benzine was found but it was not listed as an ingredient. I plan to re-read this. This was considered to be a contamination.

Joan22952
July 16, 2021

Note, the benzene found is not an intentional additive. It is most likely a contaminant of manufacturing one of the propellants in the spray sunscreen. Note that the sprays had the highest concentrations. Also, many don't realize that even gasoline that you pump every day contains benzene. Stand upwind when you pump!

Lisa22655
May 26, 2021

It is difficult to find a sunscreen which does not contain benzene (from this list) and is also well-regarded by the Environmental Working Group. Many of those listed herein which do not contain benzene have received poor reviews by the EWG.

Thanks so much for publishing this info. I'd love to find some good sunscreen which is considered "safe" on both lists.

Carol22640
May 25, 2021

Thank you for your review of suntanning products. I had 2 of the worst ones.

Pamela22639
May 25, 2021

Thank you so much. I live and breathe many avenues of health from your product reviews and this is quite scary. For those of us who take the time and expense to do all the right things, then products that we slather on often, like today before golf, were on the list. I am quite disturbed to finding these things more often now. First it was Centrum and now my sunscreens among a few other items. YIKES.

Mary22726
June 7, 2021

The Washington Post has an article that challenges the work by Valisure.

ConsumerLab.com
June 7, 2021

Here is a link to that article. It doesn't challange the laboratory findings, but points out that the health consequences remain speculative, which is valid. However, in our opinion, it is better to be aware of the results and opt for a product that was not found to contain benzene. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/benzene-sunscreen-safe-carcinogen-/2021/06/04/33723cb6-c55f-11eb-9a8d-f95d7724967c_story.html

kate7consumes
June 13, 2021

Thank you Consumer Lab!

yalonda22636
May 25, 2021

Consumerlab. Thank You for all that you do, it is so deeply appreciated

Joyce22615
May 25, 2021

My daily sunscreen/moisturizer is not listed, but it has Oxybenzone 5.0% among ingredients. How does this measure in terms of your data?

Gladys22642
May 26, 2021

Just in case you missed it, in several places they say avobenzone and oxybenzone are not the same as benzene!

Gladys22643
May 26, 2021

I'm not sure that Oxybenzone is safe either. The Environmental Working Group a non-profit group says the European Commission recommends no more than 2.2% oxybenzone

Wil22644
May 26, 2021

It's a hormone disruptor and is in your blood in about 30 minutes after application, staying there potentially 3+ weeks… according to FDA who can no longer claim it is GRASE.

Rebecca`22656
May 27, 2021

Plus it kills the coral reefs! ( Ocean Conservancy )

MAUREEN22614
May 25, 2021

Does benzene have other names? For example, is avobenzone the same as benzene?

ConsumerLab.com
May 25, 2021

Benzene does have other names like benzol or cyclohexatriene, but it is very different from the active ingredients of sunscreen, like avobenzone or oxybenzone.

Charles22613
May 25, 2021

Okay, so why does the FDA allow benzene at all in these products?

ConsumerLab.com
May 25, 2021

It does not. For sunscreens and other drug products FDA's guidance is that benzene should not be used at all because it is "unacceptably toxic." The benzene that was detected is a contaminant that should not be there.

MAUREEN22629
May 25, 2021

So, normally benzene would not be in the listed ingredients even if it was present?

Marian22943
July 16, 2021

Benzene is listed in this article as a CONTAMINANT that was found in certain lot numbers of these products. Benzene is NOT an ingredient in these sunscreens. It was a contaminant that was recently found in some sunscreens.
Benzene is a chemical that is a building block of many chemicals.

Harise22611
May 25, 2021

Are benzenes and benzones both a problem?

ConsumerLab.com
May 25, 2021

Benzene is a carcinogenic contaminant that should not be in sunscreen. Oxybenzone is an FDA approved sunscreen ingredient -- although there is concern about it as well: It can trigger allergic reactions and act as an endocrine disruptor, i.e., it may affect hormone levels. For more about oxybenzone and other approved sunscreen ingredients, see this article: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/

Paul22604
May 25, 2021

What do I do if I have the Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 60+? It's not on your list. Should I return it?

Harise22610
May 25, 2021

Ha, Paul22604 is asking exactly what I came to ask. I was about to toss my newly purchased can out, since it's been used already (Costco Value pack) but noticed it said on the can "oxybezone free". is that the problem substance or is it the Avobenzone, is a "benzone" the same as a "benzene"?

ConsumerLab.com
May 25, 2021

You may want to choose a product in which no benzene was found. There are many listed. Sunscreen is important -- as you know.

Harise22634
May 25, 2021

but if that particular product isn't listed, is it a problem still? Also, what ingredient on the container is the clue that benzenes are present?

Gladys22641
May 25, 2021

I believe it says above that avobenzone is not related to benzene!

Mark22662
May 28, 2021

You could send the Neutrogena product to Valisure for testing. It is free, but results take 8-12 weeks. EWG has been criticized for their methodology and they do not actually test sunscreen products. Consumer Reports does their own testing of sunscreens for efficacy. Based on their latest results I bought the Alba Botanica Hawaiian Coconut Clear Spray SPF 50, which I am happy to see was rated green by Valisure. My dermatologist uses a mineral sunscreen for daily use, but recommended using a chemical sunscreen before prolonged sun exposure such as going to the beach, etc. The mineral sunscreens don't provide the same level of protection as the chemical sunscreens and they don't tend to rub in well, leaving a whitish cast to the skin. However, the one recommended by my dermatologist is better than others I have tried, and was free of benzene according to Valisure. It is the EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47. It wasn't tested by CR, so I'm not sure how it compares to others, but it has been working for me so far. I have no financial interest any either of the above-mentioned products. I hope that helps!

Megan22841
June 28, 2021

Thanks, Mark22662 - I was just about to head to Consumer Reports and see if I could cross-check both lists.

Alison22602
May 25, 2021

Is there going to be a recall on any of these products?

Debbie22600
May 25, 2021

Thank you for bringing this to our attention; it sounds like a concern that more people need to know about- especially since so many products intended for use on children are included in the high risk category!

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