Some sunscreens found to contain benzene, a carcinogen

Getty Images/iStockphoto Side view of African american woman in bikini applying sunscreen lotion on shoulder at beach in the sunshine

However, this should not discourage sunscreen use for UV protection

Although recent testing has found amounts of benzene, a potential carcinogen, in some sunscreen batches, this doesn’t mean swearing off sunscreens for good.

This recent testing was done by Vallisure, a pharmacy specializing in batch-testing medications before they hit the shelves. They tested the content of 294 different batches of sunscreens and after-care products and found roughly 27% of the samples, or 78 unique batches, contained detectable benzene levels.

Benzene is recognized as a potential carcinogen in humans by multiple health organizations, including the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the World Health Organization (WHO),  and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the American Cancer Society, exposure to liquid or vaporized benzene can irritate the skin, eyes, and throat.

Further, redness and blisters can occur from skin exposure to benzene. Benzene is more commonly inhaled during occupational usage of benzene-containing solvents and materials. Long-term inhalation of high levels of benzene is associated with leukemia, cancer, and other blood conditions.

As of now, according to the Dermatology Times, Valisure is requesting the FDA to recall the identified sunscreens and after-sun care products. In addition, they are asking for defined limits for benzene contamination in cosmetic and drug products. Valisure has published their report including the list of tested products that contained benzene.

Sun protection still necessary

There are important things to note before being concerned about sunscreens. First, these were specific batches that were tested, not entire brands. Therefore, one batch from a brand of sunscreen products isn’t necessarily representative of the entire brand.

Second, the majority of the sunscreens tested were found to be safe. Valisure has noted this as well. Third, these products can be adjusted to not contain benzene contamination; it is not permanent and they can be manufactured safely. Overall, further investigation needs to be done.

For these reasons, it is still important to protect yourself against the sun. This includes continuing to apply sunscreens, as well as wearing sun-protective clothing and hats for further protection. Sunscreen is still one of the most effective ways to prevent skin cancer, as well as skin discoloration.

Especially as we enter into the summer months, it is important to keep using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above, sun-protective clothing, broad-brimmed hats, and even sunglasses to protect yourself. Remember, regardless of their skin tone, everyone should utilize sunscreen every day of the year, as well as other forms of sun protection, as a shield against UV radiation.

Alexis E. Carrington MD will be a dermatology resident at George Washington University Department of Dermatology. She completed her Internal Medicine Preliminary year at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine Elmhurst Hospital Program in New York City, during the initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is currently completing a dermatology post-doctoral research fellowship at UC Davis. She has interests in ethnic and medical dermatology, underserved and global health dermatology, and dermatologic surgery.

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