Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday that it is recalling five of its sunscreen products after some samples were found to contain low levels of benzene, a chemical that can cause cancer with repeated exposure.
The affected products, packaged in aerosol cans, are Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen, and four Neutrogena sunscreen versions: Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen, CoolDry Sport aerosol sunscreen, Invisible Daily Defense aerosol sunscreen and UltraSheer aerosol sunscreen.
The recall includes all can sizes and all levels of sun protection factor, or SPF. The products were distributed nationwide through retailers.
Traces of benzene were detected in dozens of popular sunscreens and after-sun products, according to tests conducted by online pharmacy and lab Valisure, CBS News reported last month.
Benzene, a known carcinogen, was found in 78 of nearly 300 sprays and lotions tested — about 27% — including products sold by Banana Boat and CVS, according to Valisure
The health care giant said it is investigating how the chemical got into the products.
David Light, the founder and CEO of Valisure, believes the issue is manufacturing contamination affecting specific batches. While the source of the contaminant is unknown and more of the products tested passed than failed, Light urged manufacturers and consumers to take the matter seriously.
"Benzene is one of the most studied and concerning human carcinogens known to science. Its association with forming blood cancers in humans has been shown in numerous studies at trace levels of parts per million and below. The presence of this known human carcinogen in products widely recommended for the prevention of skin cancer and that are regularly used by adults and children is very troubling," Light said in the company's statement.
J&J said it's working to get all lots of the five products removed from store shelves. It urged consumers to stop using the sunscreens immediately and said customers can get a refund by calling J&J's Consumer Care Center at 1-800-458-1673. More information is available at the websites for Neutrogena and Aveeno.
J&J said in a statement that "use of these products would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences" and that it voluntarily decided to recall them "out of an abundance of caution." The statement added that people should use an alternate sunscreen to protect themselves from the skin cancer melanoma.
Benzene is a highly flammable, widely used chemical that's present throughout the environment. It can cause cancer with repeated exposure at high enough levels. It also can damage the immune system and prevent cells from functioning properly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The chemical's effects vary by whether a person accidentally inhales or ingests it or gets it on skin and clothing. Symptoms range from dizziness and irregular heartbeat to convulsions and, at very high levels, death. J&J, which is based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, said it has notified the Food and Drug Administration of the recall. Valisure encouraged people to send in their own samples of sunscreen and sun care products for evaluation. The company also made their FDA petition to recall the products public, which includes a list of the batches with detected benzene levels. The products can be found on pages 12 to 15.
Below is a list of sunscreens and sun care products that were tested by Valisure and found not to contain benzene.