Benzene, is My Sunscreen Safe?
Last updated: October 2021
I have been a huge advocate for applying and reapplying sunscreen on a daily basis. Initially, my sun care products (introduced decades ago) were coconut oil concoctions that didn’t seem to protect me at all. Later I could purchase a thick, chalky white liquid that always seemed to burn my eyes. Eventually, I seemed to land on a pretty good product that came in lotions, powders, and sprays that were designed for different lifestyles and with different levels of protection.
Prevention is key
No matter how annoying sunscreen has been, I always thought that the preventative cure was better than the alternative, skin cancer. I always felt that anything that protected me was going to be in my skincare arsenal. Maybe that is changing?
Concerned about sunscreen safety
I have been tracking recent studies regarding some potentially carcinogenic substances that have been found in some sunscreens. Before I go any further, I do recommend sunscreen and will always use it. I am just curious to understand what is the safest formula.
A Yale review detailed possible carcinogens
A recent article from yalemedicine.org detailed the results of a recent study on a known cancer-causing agent called benzene. Specifically, the article looked at the findings of an independent quality assurance company named Valisure. After studying numerous sun care products, the company found that 78 of them contained varying levels of benzene.1
Some important information to know...
It is important to note the that Food and Drug Association (FDA) classifies sunscreen as a drug product and after sun care products as a cosmetic. Benzene is a highly flammable chemical that is a natural product of fossil fuels and is used to make plastics, dyes, and pesticides.
Benzene isn't great
This is bad stuff. Long-term exposure to benzene can cause leukemia. So, why has it found its way into skincare products? Well, evidently it is not actually an intended ingredient in sun care products. The research study noted that the harmful chemical may have entered the lotions and sprays during the manufacturing process. In other words, benzene could possibly be found in products other than sunscreens that are using the same processes. That’s not great news, either!
There's a lot of confusion
Did this study result in anything substantive? The Valisure findings led to immediate recalls by some very large companies and pharmacies (see the article in the references section for a partial list). Affected products were taken off the shelves. This has led to some confusion in the industry as these companies are now scrambling to understand how benzene could have contaminated sun care products during the manufacturing process. I would like to know how that happens. Additionally, among consumers, this has led to reasonable questions about sunscreen safety.
I'm keeping my eye on this one
So, what’s the point? As for me, I am still going to use sunscreen and pay close attention to what is in them. I am going to monitor research findings. I want to make decisions based on the best information available. Other chemicals, such as octocrylene and benzophenone are being studied currently. I will pay attention to those as well.
In my opinion, mineral-based is the way to be
Moving forward, I will try to use mineral-based sunscreens with ingredients like zinc that actually block the harmful rays. It is not always easy to get the perfect product, but sun safety and sunscreen safety are top priorities for me.
I'm going to do what's best for me
What else? These findings also motivate me to cover my skin with UPF 50 clothing and monitor my sun exposure year-round. I can stay in during the time of the day with the most direct sunlight (10 am-2 pm). I have many ways to protect my skin and thankfully benzene-laced products do not have to be one of them.
What do you do if you have concerns about sunscreen safety?
Do you sunscreen in the fall?