Our Members Asked:
Which sunscreens and after-sun products are contaminated with benzene and which are not?
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?"