Your Sunscreen Might Have a Carcinogen In It, According to a New Report

Get the downlow on which sunscreens dermatologists want recalled.

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What to Know About Benzene in Sunscreen — and How to Avoid It
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Heading into the summer months, it's more important than ever to have a sunscreen on hand that you trust. But as a report from independent laboratory Valisure revealed last week, 27 percent of the sunscreen and after-sun products it tested contained benzene, a carcinogen — and unsettlingly, many of them are household names.

Valisure, a pharmacy that batch tests medication before it reaches consumers, tested 294 different batches of sun care products from 69 different companies (find the full results here, on page 12). It found that 78 of the samples tested contained benzene, a substance that the CDC, World Health Organization, and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines as a carcinogen via inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion, and skin and/or eye contact.

The NIOSH sets benzene's recommended occupational exposure limit at .1 parts per million (ppm), which makes Valisure's findings of 2 ppm or higher in some sunscreens, from Neutrogena, Sun Bum, and CVS Health, concerning. Meanwhile, the FDA sets a recommended limit of 2 ppm per day — but according to board-certified dermatologist Heather Rogers, any exposure to benzene is worse than none, and there is an accumulative effect of being exposed to benzene, meaning multiple exposures leads to more DNA damage.

She adds that benzene is associated with the development of blood cancers like leukemia, as well as cancers of the lungs, GI tract, liver, ovaries and breasts, so if you spot your sunscreen on the lists of affected products, stop using it. And while the CDC notes that benzene is "widely distributed in the environment," that's not exactly cause for comfort. "Benzene is a well-studied and well-known carcinogen in humans. It has been shown to be linked to blood cancers even when its levels in products were in trace levels of parts per million," board-certified dermatologist Emily P. Gerson tells InStyle.

Intensifying her concern is the FDA's 2020 finding that six sunscreen ingredients — avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate — were absorbed through the skin and into the body, resulting in measurable blood levels. Given that and Valisure's discoveries, both Gerson and Rogers are in favor of the FDA recalling the affected products.

The silver lining(-ish)? The lab highlights that the presence of benzene appears to be from manufacturing contamination, unrelated to the specific sunscreen ingredients used. Based on that, it's safe to select a sunscreen from the list of options that Valisure didn't detect any benzene in, among them the below SPFs from Neutrogena, Aveeno, La Roche-Posay, CVS Health, and Banana Boat. However, Gerson recommends avoiding spray sunscreens out of concern about inhaling the ingredients.

For their part, a Neutrogena representative says: "Nothing is more important than the health and safety of the people who use our products. Benzene is not an ingredient in any of our personal care products and we are reviewing the findings presented in this petition. Every ingredient we use in our products is carefully selected to ensure safety and performance in line with our rigorous 5-step safety assurance process. We are committed to making high-quality, safe and effective sunscreens available to consumers."

Shop certified benzene-free sunscreens ahead.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-in Milk Body & Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 100

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-in Milk Body & Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 100

Amazon

Neutrogena Age Shield Face Lotion Sunscreen SPF 110

Neutrogena Age Shield Face Lotion Sunscreen SPF 110

Amazon

Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer SPF 30

Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer SPF 30

Amazon

Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion

sun-bum-mineral-sunscreen-lotion-spf-50

Amazon

Supergoop! PLAY Body Sunscreen Mousse SPF 50

Supergoop! PLAY Body Sunscreen Mousse SPF 50

Sephora

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen with SPF 55

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen with SPF55

Amazon

EltaMD UV Daily Broad-Spectrum SPF 40

EltaMD UV Daily Broad Spectrum SPF 40 Moisturizing Facial Sunscreen

Amazon

Sun Bum Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70

Sun Bum Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70

Ulta Beauty

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Broad Spectrum SPF 50

Target

COOLA Classic Body Sunscreen SPF 50

COOLA Classic Body Sunscreen SPF 50

Bloomingdale's

Vanicream Sunscreen SPF 35 Sport

Vanicream Sunscreen SPF 35 Sport

Amazon

Solimo Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50

Solimo Sport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50

Amazon

EltaMD UV Pure Broad Spectrum SPF 47 Face and Body Sunscreen

EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47 Face and Body Sunscreen

Dermstore

Australian Gold Instant Bronzer Spray Gel Sunscreen SPF 30

Australian Gold Instant Bronzer Spray Gel Sunscreen SPF 30

Ulta Beauty

Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Sunscreen Lotion

5
Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Sunscreen Lotion, Lightweight, Broad Spectrum SPF 50, 8 Fl Oz

Amazon

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