Since our March 2021 article, “Testing Shows High Levels of Benzene Found In Hand Sanitizers“, more research has shown the carcinogen benzene contaminated 78 different sunscreens and sun care products. Benzene is a chemical that has been used in many different industries, but prolonged exposure to the chemical is known to cause acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) as well as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Oftentimes, due to the so-called “latency period”, the diagnosis of AML or MDS will likely be made many years after the exposure to benzene.
Benzene Contaminated Sunscreens Found in Valisure Study
Valisure, the independent laboratory that initially investigated the benzene levels in sunscreens back in March, states the study used 294 batches of products from 69 different companies. However, some dermatologists are skeptical of the findings of the new study. Many dermatologists express worry the results of the study may misconstrue sunscreen is unsafe to use.
According to this June 2021 article, “A lab found a carcinogen in dozens of sunscreens. Here’s what those findings really mean.“, Valisure’s CEO, David Light, said the company wants to reiterate the issue is not directly related to sunscreen, but rather contamination:
Valisure CEO David Light defended the methodology used in the testing of 294 batches of products from 69 different companies. He also said the company did not intend “for anything to be misconstrued, and we’ve stated many times that we want to make sure that people understand this particular problem doesn’t appear to be an issue directly with sunscreen.”
What Does It All Mean, and What Comes Next?
Cambridge-based dermatologist, Ranella Hirsch, says she was bombarded with questions regarding the safety of using sunscreen after the results from Valisure’s study were released. In the same June 2021 article, “A lab found a carcinogen in dozens of sunscreens. Here’s what those findings really mean.“, Hirsch confirms the importance of using sunscreen:
What consumers need to understand, the Cambridge, Mass.-based Hirsch said, is that this isn’t a sunscreen problem, it’s a contamination problem. “Contaminations happen and mechanisms exist for this very thing. An individual make and car can have a part recalled, but you aren’t likely to stop driving.”
Hirsch posted a cheat sheet on Instagram to try to quell confusion. Bottom line, she wrote: “Sunscreen ingredients are safe and should be used to protect from the known and established risk of skin cancer.”
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year in the United States than all the other cancers combined, and regular use of broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF of 15 can decrease your risk of skin cancer and skin precancers.
University of California at Berkeley professor, Martyn Smith, says the findings of the study didn’t surprise him:
Martyn Smith, a professor of toxicology and the Kenneth Howard and Marjorie Witherspoon Kaiser Endowed Chair in Cancer Epidemiology at University of California at Berkeley, said he wasn’t surprised by Valisure’s findings, because benzene is difficult to avoid. “It’s the building block for many chemicals in our world, including many drugs like aspirin and other things. It’s also found in all fossil fuels, and anytime you burn anything — from a wood-burning fire to a candle — you are exposed to benzene.”
Since the publication of its benzene-contamination findings, Valisure has submitted a citizen’s petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The petition pushes for a recall of the contaminated products, along with some regulatory changes for benzene testing. The FDA has confirmed they are evaluating the petition and will continue to monitor the sunscreen marketplace and manufacturing.