The Bru-ha-ha Over Sunscreen

Dear Lovely Reader,

How are you? I hope you are doing well. Today we are talking about sunscreens and the latest controversy…benzene traces in sunscreen.

Johnson and Johnson has posted a voluntary recall of some of their sunscreen products, specifically Neutrogena and Aveeno. This was done under an “abundance of caution” according to their PR statement, while they investigate their aerosol sunscreen products, listed here: Neutrogena (Beach Defense, Cool Dry Sport, Invisible Daily, and Ultra Sheer) and Aveeno (Protect + Refresh).

Today I came across an article from Allure, titled “What Does the Benzene in Sunscreen Study Actually Mean?” and it went on to talk about how an independent for profit pharmacy and research testing lab called Valisure had found traces of benzene in 78 of 300 sunscreen samples. Benzene is NOT an ingredient that is involved in the making of sunscreen, Allure points this out.

Allure points to the fact that benzene is most likely tied to actual manufacturing of the product. Specifically: “Concerns about sunscreen safety, many entirely unfounded, continue to bubble up. The latest are stemming from a study by Valisure, an independent, for-profit pharmacy and research testing lab, that found benzene, a carcinogen, in 78 of nearly 300 sunscreen samples tested. Troubling? For sure. But let’s make one thing clear upfront: Benzene is not an ingredient in sunscreen and never has been. This is an issue of manufacturing contamination, not sunscreen formulations that pose health risks. “

There’s a mention that benzene has been found allegedly in hand sanitizer and soft drinks. Why would benzene be involved in the manufacturing process? Is it mere contamination? Or does benzene play a key figure in the manufacturing process?

Apparently benzene is used in the process of producing other things, such as plastic containers.

Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. (SOURCE:

According to the same article, Benzene is found in the air.

Where benzene is found and how it is used

  • Benzene is formed from both natural processes and human activities.
  • Natural sources of benzene include volcanoes and forest fires. Benzene is also a natural part of crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke.
  • Benzene is widely used in the United States. It ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume.
  • Some industries use benzene to make other chemicals that are used to make plastics, resins, and nylon and synthetic fibers. Benzene is also used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.

How you could be exposed to benzene

  • Outdoor air contains low levels of benzene from tobacco smoke, gas stations, motor vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions.
  • Indoor air generally contains levels of benzene higher than those in outdoor air. The benzene in indoor air comes from products that contain benzene such as glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents.
  • The air around hazardous waste sites or gas stations can contain higher levels of benzene than in other areas.
  • Benzene leaks from underground storage tanks or from hazardous waste sites containing benzene can contaminate well water.
  • People working in industries that make or use benzene may be exposed to the highest levels of it.
  • A major source of benzene exposure is tobacco smoke.”

The fact that benzene can be formed from both natural processes and human activities makes it difficult to eliminate from our lives.

What ways can we eliminate benzene from products such as hand sanitizers, soda, and sunscreen?

According to the Valisure website, they bring up the FDA and the FDA exception to the rule for the use of benzene:

“FDA currently recognizes the serious danger of benzene and lists it as a “Class 1 solvent” that “should not be employed in the manufacture of drug substances, excipients, and drug products because of their unacceptable toxicity…However, if their use is unavoidable in order to produce a drug product with a significant therapeutic advance, then their levels should be restricted” and benzene is restricted to 2 ppm for these special circumstances.”

Valisure then admits that the levels found in the sunscreens they tested are so minimal, but then quickly use that as the reason that it’s not a manufacturing issue per the FDA and simply be removed altogether.

Direct quote:

“Being that many of the tested sunscreen and after-sun care products did not contain detectable levels of benzene, it does not appear that benzene use is unavoidable for their manufacture and considering the long history of widespread use of these products, it also does not appear that they currently constitute a significant therapeutic advance; therefore, any significant detection of benzene should be deemed unacceptable.”

Because of Valisure’s reasoning, it seems that the very rule FDA has in place is still not enough of a reason and Benzene must be removed regardless. If Benzene is used in the manufacturing of plastic containers for said sunscreen, perhaps that would explain the very low traces of it found in the sunscreen material. Maybe the benzene is being drawn into the product that way. That would make more sense.

So where is the push or focus on the actual packaging versus the sunscreen product? This is what I find especially concerning.

Valisure does not really bring home the point that the benzene is not an ingredient that sunscreen products use to make their product. It’s the packaging. So why isn’t the focus placed on that? Where is science as far as taking care of the packaging and making the packaging less toxic to humans and the earth?

It’s no secret that we want to get rid of plastic forever. So here is yet another reason we need to.

We used paper, until we realized the deforestation process was hurting us and the earth.

Here are some ideas to go plastic free:

Stainless Steel

Glass (not biodegradable but definitely recyclable)

Natural Fiber Cloth


Pottery and Other Ceramics (look for those with non-toxic glazes)

Paper (compostable)

Cardboard (not coated with plastic)

(note that Wood, paper and cardboard all come from trees !!!)

What about BioPlastics? The short answer is no. Why?

Unfortunately, most bioplastics don’t break down in home composts, landfills, or loose in the environment.
Most require commercial composting facilities, which aren’t always available to the average consumer.

“Bioplastics can also contaminate municipal recycling programs when people unknowingly add them to their recycling. Many bioplastics even contain significant amounts conventional plastic.

Scientists and manufacturers generally describe bioplastics in the following ways:

  1. Non biodegradable. These bioplastics aren’t easily broken down by organisms. Like anything (even conventional plastic), they will eventually degrade after many years.
  2. Partially bio-based, “durable” plastics that are not compostable. Microrganisms can break these down, but the process generally takes longer than 3-6 months.
  3. Biodegradable, compostable plastics that need commercial facilities to decompose. While some newer bioplastics carry the claim that they will break down in a home compost, these are not yet the norm.”


One way to cut down on it according to this article: avoid single use products altogether and demand companies no longer use plastic in their containers — go use zero waste options.

Let me know in the comments below what you think. Do you know of companies producing containers that won’t cause some kind of carcinogen production involved in making them? Is there one safe for sunscreen containment?

Take care, and have a great summer!


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