The medical community is in widespread agreement about the dangers and cancer risks posed by this common industrial chemical, even in small amounts.

A colorless, highly flammable liquid with a sweet, gasoline-like smell, benzene is found in petroleum products and widely used in the manufacturing of a wide range of solvents and fabrication of rubbers, lubricants, pesticides, medications, and dyes. It is also found in cigarette smoke and exhaust from motor vehicles.

Benzene’s links to cancer and blood disorders have been reported as far back as the late 1800s when communities experienced clusters of leukemia and other blood diseases among workers exposed to the chemical during the manufacturing process. An incurable form of cancer affecting blood and bone marrow, leukemia causes a decrease in healthy red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection.

The FDA considers benzene a “Class 1 Solvent” and outlaws its use in most cosmetics and most medical products. For essential drug products that cannot be made without benzene, the FDA limits contamination to no more than two parts per million (PPM). The FDA does not include sun-care products in this exemption – so benzene contamination of any amount is not allowed for these products. Yet recent lab tests revealed benzene contamination in 78 sun-care products, with contamination in some cases far exceeding the two PPM absolute minimum threshold. Since leukemia is a cancer of the blood, absorption of benzene through the skin and into the blood is a special concern.

The only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.
American Petroleum Institute 1948

Sun Safety

Benzene contamination in sun-care products is a significant health and safety concern. A list of products that have tested positive for benzene contamination can be found here. Individuals should review the Valisure findings and immediately stop using any products found to contain benzene. But many products tested by Valisure found no contamination and are presumably safe. A list of those products can be found here.

Sunscreen is only one component of a skin-cancer prevention regimen, which also includes wearing protective clothing, sunglasses and a hat that provides shade to the whole head. Experts also advise seeking shade, when possible, during peak sunlight.

You can also read the entire report and testing methodology here.

It is critical that regulatory agencies address benzene contamination in sunscreens, and all topical medications at the manufacturing and final product level, so that all individuals feel safe using sunscreen products.
Dr. Christopher Bunick, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Dermatology at Yale University