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Some big news in the personal care industry, as you may have heard, is the presence of Benzene in certain grooming products.1 Within the last year, multiple large producers of sunscreen, dry shampoo, dry conditioner, and spray antiperspirants have recalled and refunded customers after they found unexpectedly high amounts of Benzene as a contaminant in their products.2 Long-term exposure to Benzene and exposure to high levels of Benzene have been shown to cause cancer. 

More specifically, high levels of exposure to Benzene have been linked to leukemia, blood cancer of the bone marrow and other life-threatening lung and blood conditions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified Benzene as a known human carcinogen.3 A study published by Valisure in May 2021 found that  27% of sunscreens they tested, a total of 78 products, actually contained this harmful ingredient.4 

But not to worry—there are plenty of grooming products out there that don’t contain Benzene. In this article, we’ll explain what Benzene is, how to reduce your exposure risk, and how to look for Benzene-free products.

What is Benzene?

Benzene is a colorless, airborne chemical that is highly flammable. It can come from natural sources, like volcanoes and forest fires, and is inherent in gasoline, cigarette smoke and crude oil. Benzene can also be man-made for use in industrials and manufacturing.5 

What is Benzene Used For?

Benzene is widely used across multiple industries - it’s among the top 20 chemicals in terms of production volume. It’s used to make plastics, resins, and synthetic fibers like nylon. Benzene is also used in the process of making certain types of glues, paints, dyes, detergents, drugs, lubricants, rubbers, and pesticides.6

What Are Products with Benzene?

Benzene can be found at very low levels in the air, in food and water, and in many everyday products.7,8 You might even have some in your home. Here are examples of products likely to contain Benzene:

  • Industrial solvents
  • Gasoline and other fuels
  • Glues
  • Paints + lacquers
  • Varnish removers
  • Thinners
  • Furniture wax
  • Detergents
  • Ink
  • Adhesives and coatings
  • Rubbers
  • Industrial cleansers and degreasers

Is Benzene Bad?

The severity of the impact of Benzene on your health is dependent on how much, how long and in what manner you are exposed to it. A high degree of exposure has been shown to cause an array of cancers and illnesses, including leukemia, blood cancer of the bone marrow, anemia, a diminished immune system and severe lung and blood conditions. It’s reported to cause symptoms like dizziness, headaches and irregular heartbeat.9 

Exposure to Benzene can occur if you inhale it, ingest it or it comes in contact with your skin or eyes. People are regularly exposed to Benzene at gas stations and from car exhaust and cigarette smoke.  

Is Benzene Bad for Skin?

Even low levels of exposure to Benzene can cause negative reactions on your skin, including redness, itchiness, inflammation, and dryness. It's also irritating for your respiratory system.10

Is Benzene Banned?

Benzene is not banned, but it is regulated by a number of government agencies. Because of its known impact on human health, there are very specific levels of Benzene that are allowed in the workplace, in gasoline, in consumer products and even in drinking water.11 

Benzene & Sunscreen: What You Need to Know

Benzene has recently been found in a variety of sunscreens, as well as in a number of other personal care products such as spray deodorant and antiperspirant, dry shampoo, and dry conditioner. Here we’ll answer some of the most common questions about Benzene in sunscreen and skin care products.  

What is the Bad Ingredient in Sunscreen? 

Over the last year, many people have been talking about sunscreens that contain the chemical Benzene. Benzene is not an intended ingredient in sunscreen formulas, but has appeared at higher than expected levels in post-production product testing for a number of household name brands.

“'It's not an ingredient that is added to sunscreen, and likely, (Benzene in sunscreen) occurs as a contaminant, a byproduct of manufacturing, or in the production of another raw material (used in sunscreen), like alcohol or Aloe Vera,' explains Laura Cohen, M.D., a board-certified dermatologic surgeon serving as President and CEO of CoLabs International. 'Benzene contamination may occur in many alcohol spray applications, and in some alcohol or Aloe Vera-based lotions.'”12

Although regulation allows for very low amounts of Benzene in sunscreen, the products that were recalled had higher than expected levels. Low levels of exposure to Benzene can lead to skin and respiratory irritation and impact your nervous system. High levels of exposure increase your risk for leukemia and a host of other life-threatening conditions.13  

What is Benzene in Sunscreen? 

Benzene, a known carcinogen, has recently been found in many sunscreens at higher than expected levels. Sunscreen brands including Neutrogena, Coppertone, and Aveeno have recalled dozens of sunscreen products due to the potential risk they pose to consumers.14 

Some of the recalled sunscreens were aerosol sprays, a trait they share with other types of products like spray antiperspirant and dry shampoo that were also found to contain Benzene. In the case of brands like P&G-owned Old Spice and Secret, P&G reported: “our review showed that unexpected levels of benzene came from the propellant that sprays the product out of the can.”15

How Much Benzene is in Sunscreen?

A very specific, low level (“trace level”) of Benzene is legally permissible in consumer goods, including sunscreen. The FDA advises that the Benzene limit in specific consumer products like sunscreen is less than 2 parts per million. The Valisure study found higher levels than that in 78 products, in some cases 3 times higher.16 In the case of the J&J-owned sunscreen brands (Neutrogena, Aveeno), a study conducted by the FDA found that the affected products contained anywhere from 5 to 12 times the advisable amount.17 

Experts are rightly concerned about the contamination of sunscreens and other products with Benzene. The Benzene in these products not only gets absorbed across large areas of the skin when the formula is applied, but it can also be inhaled if these products are sprayed into the air.  Health risks increase as exposure to and absorption of Benzene continues over time.18 There are some health experts who believe there is not a safe level of Benzene that can exist in sunscreen products.19

What Sunscreens Are Benzene Free?

There are still many sunscreens and skin care products out there that do not contain Benzene at higher than permissible, advisable levels.20 At Oars + Alps, we test every batch of sunscreen we make to ensure it falls within the guidelines. Two of our products, our Sunscreen Spray and our After Sun Spray, were included in the Valisure study and no Benzene was detected.21 Of note, we do not use aerosol in any of our products. Instead, our sprays use a type of technology called ‘bag-on-valve’ which utilizes compressed air to force the product out of a bag inside the can rather than requiring chemical propellants. 

If you are looking for sunscreen that does not contain Benzene contamination, we suggest you stick with products that have been tested. All of our sunscreen products are tested to ensure there is no Benzene contamination so you can feel safe when choosing an Oars + Alps product.

Protect Your Skin without Benzene

Now you know more about Benzene, the chemical that’s been found recently in a number of sunscreens, skin care and hair care products. The more you know about the ingredients in your skin care and sunscreen, the more informed and selective you can be about the products you use. As always, we’re here to help you take the guesswork out. 

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