Cancer-causing benzene contamination has been found in 78 sunscreen and after-sun products, including name brands like Neutrogena, Banana Boat, and CVS Health. Independent lab tests by Valisure shine a light on alarming gaps in oversight by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and raise questions about the safety and quality control of a wide range of these products.

Recent tests by Valisure labs found:

  • 78 out of 294 sunscreen and after-sun products tested positive for contamination with benzene, a known carcinogen linked to leukemia and other serious medical conditions.
  • Benzene contamination was detected in a wide variety of products, including sprays, gels, and lotions.
  • The FDA permits benzene to be used in products in rare cases involving essential drug products that cannot be made without the chemical. In those rare cases, the FDA limits benzene to no more than two parts per million (PPM). The FDA does not include sun-care products in this exemption, so any amount of benzene is unacceptable.
  • 14 lots of sunscreen and after-sun products had benzene contamination significantly greater than the two parts per million (PPM) maximum that the FDA allows only in rare circumstances.
The clear evidence that benzene is associated with carcinogenic effects, specifically on blood-related tissues in humans, makes this especially concerning for the health impact of exposure to contaminated sunscreen products.
Valisure report 2021

Previous research, including an FDA study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2020, concluded:

  • Active ingredients used to make sunscreen are absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream, even after only one application.
  • Once absorbed, these active ingredients can remain in the body for an extended period of time. Concentrations of the ingredients have been found in breast milk.
  • Without further testing, the FDA does not know what levels of absorption of these ingredients can be considered safe.
  • While these studies focused on absorption of active ingredients in sun-care products, they raise important concerns that products contaminated with benzene can also cause that chemical to be absorbed through the skin. Since benzene has been linked to leukemia – a type of cancer of the blood – the prospect of benzene being absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream is a special concern.