Benzene in Sunscreen. Should I be worried?

In a recent study done by Valisure, it was detected that certain batches of Sunscreen were found to have chemical benzene in Sunscreen, as a result Valisure is now urging the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] to further investigate this as well as issue a recall of the products where in ‘dangerous’ levels of Benzene was detected, if need be.

Before moving forward, we believe it is essential to first and foremost understand Benzene. What is Benzene? Is it really dangerous? Should I Stop Using Sunscreen? We are going to work to answer all of the above for you and more!

Benzene, is a colorless liquid, and almost translucent at room temperature. Yes, it is chemical in nature, and poses a fragrance that is more sweet than strong if that makes any sense.

Benzene evaporates in to the air quite quickly, given that its weight is heavier than “air”, benzene generally falls towards lower lying areas as well. Having said that, studies suggest that higher levels of exposure to Benzene, most likely occur through inhalation - whether in an industrial setting where the risk is higher, or in our everyday lives where we inhale anywhere between 3-50 micrograms/m³.

Yes, we are exposed to Benzene on a daily basis, and this exposure is almost impossible to avoid. It is in hand sanitisers; it has been detected in multiple food sources, such as butter, margarine, sour cream, and the like; and even air, so to answer your question: yes, we are all, at some level exposed to Benzene on a daily basis.

Most of us, inhale 3-40 micrograms/m3 of air which is a 1000 times less than what would be considered unsafe.

In terms of Benzene coming in contact with the skin, there is a lot less information available, and therefore regulations are not as strong as exposure to Benzene in an industrial setting. Moreover Benzene, given its volatility - as mentioned above evaporates quite quickly, most likely even before absorption occurs. Having said that, no brand will intentionally formulate with Benzene in their products, it is a contaminant. Benzene is not an active ingredient in sunscreen, it just so happened, that while producing these sunscreens, contamination has occurred, hence the need for a recall as advised by Valisure.

Yes, Benzene is extremely dangerous to you at certain levels of exposure, and now that we know these specific lots and batches of products do have Benzene, we would definitely advise all to err on the side of caution and avoid these specific lot numbers. Having said that, Benzene could be seen in all types of products, so our advise would be to avoid it if you can, but to some level exposure to Benzene is inevitable, and therefore we must avoid it where we can, and leave the minimal exposure we have to it for things we can’t control. That said, sunscreen is an essential step in everyone’s skincare routine, and there is a lot of information out there that states those who don’t wear sunscreen are more likely to contract cancers of the skin.

Imagine Spinach contaminated with E.coli, you wouldn’t stop eating spinach would you? No. You would adhere to the recall and purchase perhaps from a different brand, or try the same brand, either way, you need your spinach! So, yes you need sunscreen, and should be applying it on a daily basis, as there is a lot of information that not doing so could put you at great risk. Moreover as per the CEO of Valisure, David Light - “this isn’t an overall problem with sunscreen, there’s definitely some contamination issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible, but there are good products out there and we certainly hope that people continue to use sunscreen as its so important.” It is essential to understand that it is a batch to batch problem and not directly the company’s fault, Benzene is a contaminant, and hopefully there will be some regulations against Benzene content in products in general, as it can be found in products across the board as a result to the manufacturing process.

Now to dive deeper, there is a lot of talk about how the following ingredients are other forms of Benzene: Avobenzone and oxybenzone; to answer your question no, these ingredients are not Benzene. Avobenzone, and oxybenzone, which are UV filters present in sunscreens, what are UV filters, and what are the effects of Avobenzone and Oxybenzone, that’s for another time. We hope this cleared up some of the confusion!

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