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What You Need to Know About Benzene in Sunscreen As Major Brands Initiate Recall Due To Contamination

It seems over the past few years that it wouldn’t be summer without a new fear around sunscreen emerging right when we need it most!  If you haven’t heard the news, today, several major sunscreen brands announced a voluntary recall for five sunscreen products.  All made by Johnson & Johnson, the product samples were found to contain low levels of benzene, a chemical that can cause cancer due to over-exposure. 

Benzene is never used as an ingredient in sunscreen, so now there are a lot of questions about how it ended up there. 

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. 

Johnson & Johnson maintain they initiated this recall out of an abundance of caution – stating the benzene was found after testing by the company and an independent laboratory. It is investigating how the chemical got into the products.  J&J said it is 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.

But, What Does All of This Really Mean for You? 

Right now, everyone is trying to navigate an already confusing sunscreen landscape with chemical filters like Oxybenzone being questioned by the FDA, the various bans on chemical sunscreen ingredients due to harming the coral reefs and, the general challenge of trying to navigate all of the different mineral or natural sunscreens (which sometimes aren’t actually natural and do not always offer sufficient protection).  Now, you are probably wondering if you have to start looking for benzene-free sunscreens too?

I’m Dr. Terry Zickerman, the founder and CEO of Love Sun Body.  I spent over 6 years researching and developing Love Sun Body’s 100% natural sunscreen using only non-nano mineral filters without any harmful chemicals or synthetic ingredients. I’m a doctor by training and an expert on all things sunscreen. 

I’m going to break down this Benzene issue for you and hopefully give you enough confidence to keep on wearing sunscreen every day because it really matters! 

Whatever you learn from this article, remember to keep using sunscreen every day. 

What Is Benzene? Why Do You Need to Be Concerned About Benzene in Sunscreen? 

How did it end up in sunscreen formulas?  This dates back to testing results announced by testing lab Valisure, back in May, that 78 lots of sunscreens and sun care were found to contain Benzene. 

Benzene is a highly flammable, widely used chemical that is 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.

For more on this testing and the results, read my original blog post:  A New Report Found the Carcinogen Benzene in 78 Popular Sunscreens. 

Why Is Benzene Showing Up in Some Sunscreens and Not Others?

No one can really answer this question right now.  The problem is that none of the manufacturers involved or the testing labs can pinpoint exactly how benzene is getting into their sunscreen formulas.

It’s not an ingredient used in sunscreen so how did it end up there?  There are a lot of theories and some of them seem logical based on how raw ingredients are processed, how compounds are made and how formulas are manufactured.  The experts tend to agree that some form of accidental or oversight left these companies (and the products) vulnerable to a cross-contamination that resulted in benzene ending up where it shouldn’t.

This risk of a cross-contamination becomes much higher for any company using synthetics and chemical compounds in their sunscreen because of all the processing and manufacturing of those ingredients.  When a raw ingredient is manufactured in large tanks, cleaning products might leave a residue before or after a batch is made.  Something similar could happen when a formula is manufactured.  Ultimately, several chemical raw materials could be combined and manufactured into a new compound chemical that could also have become compromised or contaminated in that process.  In a nutshell, whether its processing, cleaning, manufacturing of raw ingredients or formulas -- there’s basically room for error here.

Are All Mineral or Natural Sunscreens Benzene Free?

Not necessarily.  The problem is that there isn’t a lot of regulation around natural or mineral sunscreens when it comes to using those words.  A natural sunscreen can have 20% plant-based ingredients and 80% chemicals in its formula and still call itself natural.  A product that uses 7% zinc oxide but 20% Avobenzone can also market itself as natural and/or a mineral sunscreen.

And, as I highlighted above, brands that use a lot of synthetic chemicals in their formulas inherently open themselves up to more risk of contamination with harmful chemicals like benzene versus those who don’t use a lot of synthetic chemical ingredients.

With that said, Love Sun Body is absolutely a safe sunscreen option today for several reasons.

How Love Sun Body Creates a Safer Sunscreen from Raw Ingredients to Formula Production

First, Love Sun Body is a 100% natural mineral sunscreen – we do not use any synthetic chemical ingredients or chemical compounds in our formulas.  Second, we chose to develop our products to a very rigorous global standard called Cosmos Natural certification and have it verified and validated by a governing body called ECOCERT.   This is our way of proving to consumers and retailers that our products are truly 100% natural and environmentally responsible.  The Cosmos Natural Certification requires Love Sun Body to:

  • Each plant and mineral ingredient that we source is certified Cosmos natural and must adhere to rigorous standards for how it is grown, extracted, processed, etc. to ensure it is not damaging to the environment or human health. We source ingredients from manufacturers that start with natural raw ingredients sourced from sustainable practices and use methods that are environmentally sound and good for communities.
  • We know where every single one of our raw ingredients comes from, how it has been grown and processed and that is truly free of any harmful chemicals as approved by Ecocert.
  • An independent organization has reviewed the manufacturing process of a product and has independently determined that the final product complies with specific standards for safety and quality. This review typically includes comprehensive formulation/material reviews, testing and facility inspections. Most certified products bear the certifier’s mark on their packaging to help consumers and other buyers make educated purchasing decisions.
  • The cleaning process of any manufacturing facility involved in the processing of any of our raw natural ingredients or our entire formula must be approved by Ecocert – in line with not being toxic to the environment or human health or leaving a residue that could be toxic.

My mission was to create a 100% natural mineral sunscreen that would be safe for me and my family to use every day and would be kind to the planet.  With 6 years of research and development, adopting the most rigorous standard for producing a clean, natural and safe product – Cosmos Natural Certification by ECOCERT – I can confidently recommend Love Sun Body is safe for you and your family too.  No benzene.  No oxybenzone.  No octinoxate. No avobenzone.  No harmful synthetics.  No chemical filters.  No chemical compounds of any kind.

We formulate SPF 30 and SPF 50 sunscreens, that not only meet the FDA standards for broad spectrum protection, but the much tougher EU standards as well – they require that at least 1/3 of the SPF protection targets UVA rays.  We have received a number one rating for safety and efficacy from EWG (Environmental Working Group) in their Skin Deep guide.  

Love Sun Body 100% Natural Origin Mineral Sunscreens are the first and only sunscreens in the U.S. certified by Ecocert Cosmos Natural and have been clinically tested hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic and are reef safe.  Our formulas are made with the safest UVA and UVB filters - non-nano zinc oxide and  titanium dioxide.

All our formulas are biodegradable, our packaging is recyclable, minimized and is environmentally friendly.

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