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5th Personal Care Product Category Recalled for Heightened Levels of Benzene


Christopher Bunick, MD, PhD, discusses the 5th personal care product category recall, dry shampoos, due to heightened levels of benzene.

In an interview with Dermatology Times, Christopher Bunick, MD, PhD, associate professor of dermatology at Yale University, explains why it's important for clinicians and consumers to pay attention to the continued rise in evidence of benzene in personal hygiene products. The most recent recall of dry shampoos is the 5th personal care product category to be recalled due to detected levels of benzene.

Video transcript:

I'm Christopher Bunick, associate professor of dermatology at Yale University. I'm here to talk about this recent recall by Unilever of approximately 19 products of dry aerosol shampoo with benzene contamination. We know that here at Dermatology Times, Dermatology Times broke the story about benzene contamination in sunscreen about a year and a half ago. And what we've been hearing over the past year and a half is a continued rise in evidence of benzene contamination in consumer products, particularly personal hygiene products. It started with the sunscreens and the after-suncare products, then we found antiperspirants being recalled because of benzene contamination. Then we found antifungals being recalled because of benzene contamination and now dry aerosol shampoo products.

This might be alarming to a lot of people because shampoo and conditioning of hair is a mainstay of human life at this point. And to find that some of these shampoos have a cancer-causing agent like benzene in them, can be very alarming. I think that what's most important for the dermatology community and the healthcare community to be aware of is that this benzene contamination, it's not something to just be ignored. There's clearly a manufacturing problem, a supply chain contamination and manufacturing problem where benzene is ending up in a lot of our consumer products. This is not okay. And the reason we know it's not okay is because in the original study on sunscreens by Valisure, they found many sunscreens that were not contaminated with the benzene. So the ability to make these personal hygiene products without benzene contamination is there it can be done.

So the question is, why is it that quality control measures are not robust enough, and that we keep having benzene contaminated products ending up on the market. I think that this needs to be addressed in an open and transparent manner. I've been calling for transparency around a lot of this contamination. Now, Unilever, very similar to the original Johnson and Johnson statement on the recall, did not release the parts per million benzene that was contaminating their dry aerosol shampoo products. But what we know from the Freedom of Information Act is that when Johnson and Johnson did their internal evaluation, some of the parts per million of benzene was up around 20, almost fourfold higher than what Valsure found in the original study.

I think it's important for dermatologists and the healthcare community to know well, what actually are the parts per million benzene contamination levels in these other products, the antiperspirant, the antifungals, and now the dry aerosol shampoos. And the reason this is important is that research dating back to 2003, has shown that the increased risk for leukemia starts around 0.8 to 1.6 part per million. So if we're finding 10 to 20 parts per million in these personal care products, I think that signifies to the entire healthcare industry and consumer population that this is a real problem. And it needs to be addressed because the long term health impact of these products that are contaminated with benzene is still unknown. The rates of cancer linked to these products is unknown. It might be 0. But we don't know that. Because we don't really understand how long this contamination has been going on. Is this a new phenomenon in the pandemic era? Or is this something that's been going on for decades?

So I think that there's a lot of research that needs to be done to understand this. But the most important thing is right now, we now have the 5th category of personal hygiene care product being recalled because of high levels of benzene, a well known and well studied carcinogen. We have sunscreens, the after suncare products, the shampoos, the antifungals, and antiperspirants; 5 categories. I'm sure that there's more to come. I don't think that this is the end of the story.

I think that the big message that I'll tell healthcare providers when patients come in, I think it's important to let them know that with regard to sunscreens, Valisure has published on their website, an Appendix A, that lists the sunscreens they tested that did not have benzene contamination. That's where I send my own patients to get information of what might be safe to use. And I think for the other types of products, there is a common theme among those other products being recalled, they're largely aerosolized products.

I think that what people are finding in the industrial investigation is that the propellants used in these aerosol products seem to be contaminated with benzene and that's how it's getting in these products. But certainly there needs to be more supply chain and manufacturing quality of control investigation behind this. But what I would advise my patients at this point is if you're concerned about the risks of benzene, avoiding aerosolized products might be the best step until there's more investigation and understanding behind why it's getting in there, and what harm might cause long term.

Transcript edited for clarity.

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