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Consumer Safety

Johnson & Johnson recalls sunscreens with benzene contamination

Certain Neutrogena products pulled after company finds the chemical in some samples

by Craig Bettenhausen
July 15, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 26

A photo of Neutrogena-brand aerosol sunscreen products on a store shelf.
Credit: Craig Bettenhausen/C&EN
Several of the recalled sunscreens were still on the shelf in a Baltimore drugstore a day after the recall was issued.

Johnson & Johnson issued a recall July 14 for all lots of several of its Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreens because of benzene contamination. Benzene is a known carcinogen that can be absorbed through the skin, lungs, and digestive tract.

Do not buy

Johnson & Johnson’s recall covers all lots of all SPF ratings in the following product lines:

Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen

Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport aerosol sunscreen

Neutrogena Invisible Daily defense aerosol sunscreen

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreen

Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen.

The recall follows a late-May report by the independent research lab Valisure, which detected benzene in 78 sun-care products, including several from Neutrogena. J&J says it did its own testing and found benzene in five product lines.

Valisure CEO David Light says he isn’t aware of any other public actions taken by makers of the sun products, though the drugstore chain CVS appears to have stopped selling a store-brand aloe spray in which Valisure found benzene at high levels.

The source of the benzene is still unclear, and Light says his firm is eager to collaborate on ways to figure it out. He says the ethanol used in some aerosols could be the culprit; in March, Valisure found benzene in 44 ethanol-based hand sanitizers.

Carbomer, a polyacrylic acid–based thickening agent, is another possibility, according to industry insiders. For instance, some grades of Lubrizol’s Carbopol carbomer contain residual benzene from manufacturing, though the firm offers benzene-free grades intended for personal care products. “One would hope that sunscreen manufacturers would choose grades of thickener specifically designed for personal care (and thus, one would expect, free of benzene) but who knows?” writes a C&EN reader whose company uses carbomers. The reader asked to remain anonymous.

In a statement accompanying the recall notice, J&J says, “While benzene is not an ingredient in any of our sunscreen products, it was detected in some samples of the impacted aerosol sunscreen finished products. We are investigating the cause of this issue.”



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