Benzene in Sunscreen - Big Risk?

  • #1
russ_watters
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Summary:
How is benzene getting in sunscreen and is it a serious concern?
So, I'm a little surprised this didn't get posted sooner (maybe that's my answer?), but a recent study found Benzene in a lot of sunscreens:
https://www.valisure.com/blog/valisure-news/valisure-detects-benzene-in-sunscreen/

And the organization started a petition to recall them:
https://www.valisure.com/wp-content...unscreen-and-After-sun-Care-Products-v9.7.pdf

But this article that quotes several scientists seems to indicate little concern and much hype:
When independent laboratory Valisure announced it had found the known carcinogen benzene — a compound linked to blood cancers such as leukemia — in 78 sunscreens and after-sun products, the news prompted a flurry of alarming headlines and articles. But some experts are raising questions about how the study was conducted, and dermatologists are emphasizing that the news does not mean sunscreen is unsafe....

Martyn Smith, a professor of toxicology and the Kenneth Howard and Marjorie Witherspoon Kaiser Endowed Chair in Cancer Epidemiology at University of California at Berkeley, said he wasn’t surprised by Valisure’s findings, because benzene is difficult to avoid. “It’s the building block for many chemicals in our world, including many drugs like aspirin and other things. It’s also found in all fossil fuels, and anytime you burn anything — from a wood-burning fire to a candle — you are exposed to benzene.”

Chemistry professor Joe Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal, agreed.
“Because of our analytical capabilities, you can find contaminants in everything,” he said. “If you look for it, you will find it.” The presence of a chemical does not equal the presence of risk, Schwarcz added.

Smith said he compared the highest level of benzene contamination mentioned in Valisure’s report to urban air breathing for 24 hours, and estimated that applying 10 ml of the contaminated sunscreen (approximately one application) could — in the worst-case scenario — result in absorbing about half the amount of benzene one gets from breathing city air in for a day.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/life...723cb6-c55f-11eb-9a8d-f95d7724967c_story.html

I was going to ask if there's a real risk here, but instead I'm wondering -- what is their angle? Why are they doing this?
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
Vanadium 50
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Well, the "high levels" are of order 1 ppm. That's one gram per ton. We breathe in 0.5 mg or so of benzene daily.

Conclusion: if we breathed in a couple pounds of sunscreen daily, that might not be healthy.
 
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  • #3
Fervent Freyja
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I was going to ask if there's a real risk here, but instead I'm wondering -- what is their angle? Why are they doing this?
I have to speculate here. The angle could be that some company is planning to target consumers with children by launching a new product that proves it is benzene-free and they indirectly funded this study as the initial phase of their strategy. Release the study and have it published on news sites. Once the population is informed, launch the product.

Parents will fork out $20-30 for a small tube of organic or natural sunscreen. This “study” tears down leading child sunscreen manufacturers. So, after parents read about this study on news sites, they will choose the benzene-free one next time at the store or order it online.

It’s a good gimmick, but still, if the study is repeated and found there are really worrisome levels, then it could be a good thing and force some more regulations to be made in that industry. Just because one product may not have terribly high levels of a carcinogen doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect developing children when combined with the numerous other products that we use on them. They are exposed to small levels throughout their day from different sources- the more products that we can eliminate carcinogens in, the better. Health and hygiene industry for children is huge. Focusing on products that are eco-friendly and eliminating toxins from common products used in child care is a money maker- the strategy is incorporated into everything from diaper bags, utensils, etc. Heck, my diaper wipe warmer was BPA free.
 
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  • #4
TeethWhitener
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Summary:: How is benzene getting in sunscreen and is it a serious concern?

I was going to ask if there's a real risk here, but instead I'm wondering -- what is their angle? Why are they doing this?
@Fervent Freyja ‘s answer was excellent. I can’t add too much, but I’ll point out that this company focuses on consumer advocacy (per their website). But there are plenty of non-profit consumer advocacy groups already. These folks have to turn a profit, and this is a high-visibility way to drum up business for their services: we’re on the side of the little guy, so give us money for your analytical needs. Literally anyone with a GC-MS could do the same analysis, so really the only edge they have as a private company is the public perception of them.
 
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  • #5
Astronuc
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Summary:: How is benzene getting in sunscreen and is it a serious concern?

I was going to ask if there's a real risk here, but instead I'm wondering -- what is their angle? Why are they doing this?

https://www.jnj.com/johnson-johnson...creen-products-due-to-the-presence-of-benzene
Johnson & Johnson statement:
Benzene is classified as a human carcinogen, a substance that could potentially cause cancer depending on the level and extent of exposure. Benzene is ubiquitous in the environment. Humans around the world have daily exposures indoors and outdoors from multiple sources. Benzene can be absorbed, to varying degrees, by inhalation, through the skin, and orally. Based on exposure modeling and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) framework, 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. Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling all lots of these specific aerosol sunscreen products.
The affected products:
he only sunscreen products impacted are aerosol products, specifically:
  • NEUTROGENA® Beach Defense® aerosol sunscreen,
  • NEUTROGENA® Cool Dry Sport aerosol sunscreen,
  • NEUTROGENA® Invisible Daily™ defense aerosol sunscreen,
  • NEUTROGENA® Ultra Sheer® aerosol sunscreen, and
  • AVEENO® Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen.
It is a potential liability.


https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/
https://apnews.com/article/nj-state...brown-courts-37eb80193bd041286864392a764a2068
https://www.forbes.com/sites/alison...n-challenge-of-2-billion-baby-powder-lawsuit/

https://www.npr.org/2020/05/19/8591...ling-talc-based-baby-powder-in-u-s-and-canada
 
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