July 15, 2021 — Consumers should stop using certain brands of spray-on sunscreen products made by Johnson & Johnson. The company has issued a voluntarily recall after finding low levels of benzene, a known cancer-causing agent, in some samples.
Benzene is not an ingredient of sunscreen, and should not be present in these products. The levels detected were low and would not be expected to have an adverse effect on health, but the company says it is recalling the products anyway “out of an abundance of caution.”
The sunscreen products that have been recalled are:
- 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.
These products were distributed nationwide through a variety of retail stores. Consumers should stop using these products and throw them away, the company said.
At the same time, it emphasized the importance of using alternative sunscreen products to protect the skin from excessive sun exposure, which can lead to skin cancer including melanoma.
Johnson & Johnson has launched an investigation into how benzene got into these products.
One of the company’s other spray sunscreen products, Neutrogena Wet Skin, was not included in the recall.
Several weeks ago, benzene was found in 78 widely-used sunscreen products in tests conducted by the online pharmacy and laboratory Valisure Most of the products were aerosol sprays, and the company called on the FDA to recall them all.
That petition suggested that the finding of benzene was the result of contamination somewhere in the manufacturing process.
“This isn’t a sunscreen issue, it’s a manufacturing issue,” said Adam Friedman, MD, professor and chief of dermatology at George Washington University. “We don’t want those things to be blurred.”
There is a risk that people take away the wrong message from these findings.
“People already have ambivalence about sunscreen, and this is just going to make that worse,” Friedman said in an interview at the time.
He pointed out that benzene is present in car exhaust, second-hand smoke, and elsewhere. Inhalation exposure has been the primary focus of toxicology investigations, as has exposure from things such as contaminated drinking water – not via topical application. “We don’t know how effectively [benzene] gets through the skin, if it gets absorbed systemically, and how that then behaves downstream,” he noted.
On the other hand, ultraviolet radiation is a well-established carcinogen. Avoiding an effective preventive measure such as sunscreen could prove more harmful than exposure to trace amounts of benzene, he said.