Health & Wellness

Sunscreen Warning!

Several popular sunscreens have been flagged as containing a cancer-causing chemical

By Caitlin Finlay

Sunscreen is key to protecting your skin from the harmful UVA and UVB rays that cause cancer, but some sunscreens and after-sun products have been found to contain benzene, a known carcinogen that with prolonged exposure is associated with cancers and other medical conditions.

The benzene contamination was discovered by Valisure, a US pharmaceutical testing company, during a routine batch test of health products. Of the 294 sunscreens and sun aftercare products tested from 69 different brands, 78 contained benzene. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there’s no safe level of benzene exposure, but there are industrial conditions under which its use is unavoidable. In these cases, the benzene must be used in concentrations of less than 2 parts per million (ppm). Sunscreen and sun products don’t qualify for this conditional use—in fact, benzene is not a product normally found in sunscreen, so it won’t be listed in the ingredients; the contamination is thought to have occurred during the manufacturing process.

During the testing, 14 of the sun products were found to have benzene levels above the 2ppm threshold, ranging from 2.78ppm to 6.26ppm. Valisure is now petitioning for these contaminated products to be recalled by the FDA and is conducting testing on additional sun products.

The contaminated sun products include common brands such as Neutrogena, Banana Boat, Sun Bum, CVS Health, and Raw Elements. They also include both chemical- and mineral-based sunscreens. However, not all products from these brands were contaminated and the problem appears to be limited to certain product batches or lots. A complete list of the products containing benzene can be found on pages 12, 13, 14, and 15 of this report. If you find your usual sunscreen or sun aftercare product on the list of contaminated products, throw it out immediately and choose a product that isn’t on the list.

Photo: iStock/spukkato.