On July 14, 2021, Johnson and Johnson Consumer, Inc. voluntarily recalled all batches of five NEUTROGENA and AVEENO aerosol sunscreen product lines distributed to consumers through a variety of retail channels. The corporation recalled the products after a cancer causing chemical known as benzene was detected in samples. The products were distributed nationwide and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) issued a statement asking customers to stop using the affected sunscreen products immediately.1
Janssen Biotech, Inc., a Janssen Pharmaceutical Company of J&J is the manufacturer of the COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization (EUA) in the United States.2
Benzene Found in Five Johnson & Johnson Sunscreen Aerosols
J&J has recalled the following five products that are sunscreen aerosols: 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.3
The announcement of the recall came a few months after an independent testing lab known as Valisure found benzene in 78 sunscreen products. Valisure put in a request for the FDA know to recall the 78 products and for the agency to conduct its own investigation into the safety of the products.4
A news release by Valisure states:
Valisure LLC has tested and detected high levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen, in several brands and batches of sunscreen, which are considered drug products by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as in after-sun care products, which are generally regulated by FDA as cosmetics.5
According to a J&J news release, benzene is not an official ingredient in any of the recalled sunscreen products; however, it was detected in some samples of the impacted aerosol sunscreen finished products.6
In a statement, J&J said:
Daily exposure to benzene in these aerosol sunscreen products at the levels detected in our testing would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences. Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling all lots of these specific aerosol sunscreen products.7
Benzene: A Carcinogen
Benzene is classified as a human carcinogen, a substance that could potentially cause cancer (leukemia) depending on the level and extent of exposure. Benzene can be absorbed to varying degrees, by inhalation, through the skin, and orally.8
Long-term exposure to benzene causes harmful effects in the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells leading to anemia. It has been reported that some women, who breathe high levels of benzene for many months, have had irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in the size of their ovaries. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia, a cancer of the blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and lymphatic system.9 10
FDA Investigating How Benzene Ended Up in the Sunscreen Aerosols
The FDA is now investigating how benzene ended up in J&J sunscreens aerosols. FDA spokesperson Jeremy Kahn stated:
The root cause of the benzene found in recalled sunscreen products is the focus of ongoing investigation. We will continue to monitor sunscreen manufacturing and marketing to help ensure the availability of safe sunscreens for U.S. consumers.11
David Light, Chief Executive of Valisure said that he believes the source of the benzene will likely be traced to contaminated raw materials. He does not think that the issue is inherent to aerosol sunscreens.12
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Click here to view References:
1 Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. Issues Voluntary Recall of Specific NEUTROGENA® and AVEENO® Aerosol Sunscreen Products Due to the Presence of Benzene. July 14, 2021.
2 U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine. July 13, 2021.
3 Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. Issues Voluntary Recall of Specific NEUTROGENA® and AVEENO® Aerosol Sunscreen Products Due to the Presence of Benzene. July 14, 2021.
4 Rettner R. J&J recalls 5 sunscreen sprays found to contain carcinogen benzene. Live Science July 16, 2021.
5 Valisure. Valisure Detects Benzene in Sunscreen. May. 25, 2021.
6 Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. Issues Voluntary Recall of Specific NEUTROGENA® and AVEENO® Aerosol Sunscreen Products Due to the Presence of Benzene. July 14, 2021.
7 Feuer W. J&J recalls Aveeno, Neutrogena sunscreens over cancer-causing chemical. New York Post July 15, 2021.
8 Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. Issues Voluntary Recall of Specific NEUTROGENA® and AVEENO® Aerosol Sunscreen Products Due to the Presence of Benzene. July 14, 2021.
9 U.S. Centers for Disease Control Emergency Preparedness and Response. Facts About Benzene. Apr. 4, 2021.
10 Mayo Clinic. Leukemia. Jan. 13, 2021.
11 Erman M, Steenhuysen J. FDA investigating how a known carcinogen wound up in J&J sunscreen. Reuters July 16, 2021.