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Consumer Products

Benzene is, again, found in personal care products

Unilever recalls several lots of dry shampoo sprays

by Craig Bettenhausen
October 26, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 38


Two rows of dry shampoo sprays.
Credit: Unilever
Unilever has recalled hundreds of lots of dry shampoo sprays because of benzene contamination.

The carcinogenic chemical benzene has cropped up in another batch of personal care products, this time dry shampoo sprays.

The consumer product giant Unilever has recalled more than 300 lots of aerosol dry shampoo from its Dove, Nexxus, Suave, Rockaholic, Bed Head, and TRESemmé brands, citing “potentially elevated levels of benzene.” Dry shampoos generally use starches to absorb oily substances in hair without the need for a water rinse. Unilever says in its recall notice that the benzene comes from the products’ propellants: isobutane and propane.

The recall is the latest in a string of such incidents. In March 2021, the independent analytical lab Valisure informed the US Food and Drug Administration about benzene contamination in alcohol-based hand sanitizers; it found benzene in sunscreens two months later. Since then, benzene contamination has forced recalls of sunscreens, after-sun lotions, antifungals, antiperspirants, and deodorants from several major consumer product makers including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble. Most but not all of the affected products have been aerosol sprays.

“With yet another recall of aerosol cosmetics due to benzene contamination, consumers should question the safety of spray products and cosmetics in general,” says David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a consumer advocacy nonprofit. “The FDA needs to take immediate action to ensure that consumers are not exposed to carcinogens like benzene in the products they use every day.”

Valisure has been screening personal care products since the first finding more than a year ago. CEO David Light says the continued drumbeat of contamination is concerning because, at this point, the industry should have a handle on benzene contamination in consumer products. “We see plenty that are fine,” he says. “It is possible to refine the propane, butane, and isobutane—any of these propellants—to not contain detectable levels of benzene.”

On Nov. 1, Valisure reported finding benzene in 103 out of 148 dry shampoos in a recent round of testing. Affected brands include Not Your Mother’s, Batiste, and L’Oréal. The firm's analysis of spray from some batches found benzene at concentrations of up to 170 times the FDA's limit for drugs, 2 ppm. Light says the latest findings are “the highest detection we've seen so far.”

In addition to asking the FDA to order a recall of the contaminated lots, Valisure is petitioning the agency to set clear limits for cosmetic products. A full list of affected lots in Valisure’s latest screen can be found at


This article was updated on Nov. 2, 2022, to include a description of Valisure’s study of 148 dry shampoos, a quote on the results by David Light, a description of Valisure’s petition to the US Food and Drug Administration, and a link to the list of shampoo lots found by Valisure to contain benzene.



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