Months ago, I published a thorough post about sunscreen, choosing the one that’s right for you, tips for application, and more helpful resources. The information and tips in that article are still very relevant, but this new information should be paired with those tips and resources.
If you’d like to absorb some of this information in an audio/video format, you can watch my video on the topic here.
Today, I’m sad to say that some new findings have surfaced about the sunscreens that many of us use on a daily basis.
Many of my readers have albinism or have a family member with albinism, and we rely on these products to keep us safe from UV rays that cause sunburn, pre-mature aging, and skin cancer. These products are so crucial to our daily lives, and they have become an essential part of our communities.
Please continue reading to learn more. A list of resources will be at the end of the article so that you can do your own investigating if you so desire.
Disclaimer: This article applies to products sold in and regulated by agencies in the United States. It may or may not apply to products in other countries.
Who is Valisure?
New evidence has surfaced from a pharmacy named Valisure. Valisure has been featured for their previous findings on sites like The Washington Post and others. In fact, in 2019 they were one of the top pharmacies credited with finding a chemical in ranitidine (name brand: Zantac) that is thought to cause cancer. This finding halted the sale of this drug in over 40 countries. Investigation still continues on this medicine. Other drug quality issues identified by Valisure include the diabetes drug metformin and hand sanitizer products found to contain benzene.
Now, that same company has tested 294 batches of sunscreen from 69 different companies and found the presence of benzene in 27%, or 78 sunscreen and after-sun care products.
What is Benzene
Benzene is a product that is normally used as a solvent in chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Trace levels are known to be found in gasoline, glues, adhesives, cigarette smoke, and more. At room temperature, benzene is a colorless or light-yellow liquid chemical. Benzene has been labeled a carcinogen by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and others. Exposure routes of benzene include “inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact” as described by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Benzene toxicity studies date back over 120 years. One in 1939 stated that “exposure over a long period of time to any concentration of benzene greater than zero is not safe.” Another study as recent at 2010 stated nearly the same thing. If these studies exist, and I’m sure even more than these two exist, how can there be an acceptable amount of benzene allowed in the pharmaceuticals that we use on and in our bodies? Multiple FDA studies have found that ingredients in sun protection products applied to the skin absolutely end up in our blood at high levels. So, my question remains the same, and I find myself frustrated that this is the state of our drug regulation. I know I’m not alone.
Sunscreens Found to Contain Benzene
Despite the CDC specified concentration limit of 2 parts per million, we can all agree that any level of a carcinogen in the products we use on our bodies and our children’s bodies is unacceptable. Below, I will list the sun products found to contain benzene in any amount.
This list contains sun protection products, after sun products, and sun-tan products. It has a surprising number of brands included. Each item in the source chart also has a UPC and Lot number. For detailed charts, amounts, and more, please consult the original sources under the Resources heading at the end of this article. Here is the PDF file containing this list of items that contain benzene (scroll down to page 12 for the chart).
- Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Weightless Sunscreen Spray SPF 100+
- Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Weightless Sunscreen Spray SPF 70
- Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Spray
- Neutrogena Beach Defense Oil-Free Body Sunscreen Spray SPF 100
- Neutrogena Beach Defense Spray Body Sunscreen SPF 50
- Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Body Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 60+
- Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray SPF 70
- Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray SPF 50
- Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Face Sunscreen SPF 50
- Sun Bum Cool Down Gel
- Sun Bum After Sun Cool Down Aloe Vera Spray
- Sun Bum Oxy Free Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
- Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera Gel
- Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50
- Raw Elements Eco Formula Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
- Raw Elements Eco Formula Sunscreen Lotion Tin SPF 30
- CVS Health After-Sun Aloe Vera Soothing Gel
- CVS Health After-Sun Aloe Vera Soothing Spray
- CVS Health Ultra Sheer Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Lotion SPF 100
- CVS Health Ultra Sheer Lotion Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 45
- CVS Health 70 Beach Guard Sun Sunscreen
- CVS Health Sport Clear Spray Sunscreen SPF 100+
- CVS Health Sheer Mist Spray Broad Spectrum UVS/UVS Continuous Spray Sunscreen SPF 70
- Live Better by CVS Health Body Mineral Spray Sunscreen SPF 50
- Coppertone Whipped Sunscreen Lotions Spray SPF 50
- SunBurnt Advanced After-Sun Gel
- Goodsense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
- La Roche-Posay Anthelios Sunscreen Lotion Spray SPF 60
- Banana Boat Kids Max Protect & Play Sunscreen C-Spray SPF 100
- Banana Boat Kids Sport Sunscreen Lotion Spray SPF 50
- Banana Boat Kids Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
- Banana Boat UltraMist Deep Tanning Dry Oil Continuous Clear Spray SPF 4
- Banana Boat Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Water Resistant Sunscreen SPF 70
- Banana Boat Protective Dry Oil Clear Sunscreen Spray with Coconut Oil SPF 15
- Banana Boat Ultra Defense Ultra Mist Clear Sunscreen Spray SPF 100
- Banana Boat Simply Protect Kids Sunscreen Spray SPF 50+
- TopCare Everyday Ultimate Sheer Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70
- TopCare Everyday Ultimate Sheer Sun Lotion Sunscreen SPF 55
- TopCare Everyday Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70
- EltaMD UV Aero Broad-Spectrum Full-Body Sunscreen Spray SPF 45
- Ethical Zinc Natural Clear Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50+
- Up & Up Clear Aloe Vera Gel
- Babyganics Kid’s Sunscreen Continuous Spray SPF 50
- Equate Kids Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
- Max Block Sunscreen Lotion 4 Fl Oz Broad Spectrum Water Resistant SPF 30
- Max Block Sport Sunscreen Lotion Water Resistance Blue 30 SPF
- Walgreens Sport Lotion Sunscreen SPF 50
- Walgreens Broad Spectrum Sport SPF 50 Sunscreen
- Walgreens Sunscreen Sport SPF 50
- Walgreens After Sun Gel
- Solimo Sheer Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 55
What Can You Do?
Now, after seeing that way-too-long list, I’m sure you’re wondering what you can do. If you’re like me, you may be horrified to find that some of the items on this list are in fact items you have used. We can’t do anything about our past usage, but we can make smart choices now with this new information.
Safe Products and Alternatives
I know this new information is both frustrating and terrifying, especially if you are a new parent of a child with albinism reading this. Remember, sunscreen is not the only way to protect your child from UVA/UVB rays, but it is still a valuable tool. Valisure includes a list of products that tested negative for benzene, and you can opt to use one of those products in place of the ones listed above. You can also choose to utilize UPF clothing, shade, umbrellas, limited sun exposure, and other protective methods and limit your use of sunscreen. By no means do I advocate to stop sunscreen use altogether. Again, it is still a very valuable tool, but it appears that we need to be picky about the products we all use.
The list of products that DO NOT contain benzene is quite long! You can see that list in this PDF document from Valisure. Save it to your phone to reference on your next shopping trip. That is certainly what I plan to do.
The Citizen Petition
Valisure has put together a detailed citizen petition that you can send to the Food and Drug Administration on behalf of Valisure. It include charts outlining the products listed above that contain benzene. The mailing address is outlined in the petition, but I will list it here for your convenience as well.
Division of Dockets Management
Food and Drug Administration
5630 Fishers Lane, Room 1061
Rockville, MD 2085
The petition calls for the following actions to be taken by the Food and Drug Administration:
- Request a recall of identified batches of sunscreen products on the basis that, due to contamination with a known human carcinogen, these products are adulterated and misbranded.
- Conduct examinations and investigation regarding these products, their manufacturing processes, and the manufacturer.
Safely Disposing of Products
We have all seen the news that some ingredients in sun protection products can damage marine life, and that begs the question, how do we properly dispose of benzene containing products. Valisure has answered that questions for us. Option one is to find your nearest hazardous waste collection programs. These are the same programs that dispose of old batteries, used motor oil, pesticides, old electronics, and more. Most cities offer this service monthly or have facilities with drop-off locations.
Hazardous waste disposal may refuse pharmaceuticals and may consider these sun products pharmaceutical products. The next option for disposal is to see if your local city houses any medication disposal sites. CVS runs an old medication disposal service. To find one near you, visit their medication disposal search page. Also, check with local pharmacies, hospitals, mental health facilities, and law enforcement.
Another option for disposal is to submit your sunscreen products to Valisure for testing. There they will dispose of them properly. You can view their sample submission instructions to learn more about this program.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Benzene. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): Article Link.
Petronelli, M (2021). Valisure highlights controversy of benzene in sunscreen. Dermatology Times: Article Link
Team Valisure (2021). Valisure detects benzene in sunscreen. Valisure: Article Link.
Team Valisure (2021). Responsible disposal of contaminated sunscreen products. Valisure News: Article Link.
Valisure (2021). Attachment A: Table 5, Products description of various batches of sunscreen for which benzene was not detected through initial analysis of at least one sample from each batch. Valisure: PDF Document Link.
Valisure (2021). Valisure citizen petition on benzene in sunscreen and after-sun care products. Valisure: PDF Document Link.