A testing lab company called Valisure is sounding the alarm over a carcinogen detected in common sun care products. This week, the lab sent off a petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning that it has found potentially unsafe levels of a chemical called benzene in dozens of sunscreens and after-sun care lotions it tested.
It is now calling for the FDA to recall these products and investigate the possible contamination. The Connecticut-based lab is an independent testing facility that focuses on ensuring the safety of the products it tests, including those sold through its pharmacy.
It informed the FDA in 2018 that it had detected a probable cancer-causing compound known as NDMA in medications containing the active ingredient ranitidine, such as Zantac, an over-the-counter heartburn medication. Their statements were eventually proven correct, and the FDA and other regulatory organizations across the world have now mandated ranitidine drug recalls.
Valisure contacted the FDA again in March after discovering benzene levels in hand sanitizers, which resulted in a voluntary recall of several products. The lab is now saying the same for various sunscreens and after-sun care products, such as sunburn lotions.
The test discovered benzene in 78 of nearly 300 brands supplied by 69 companies, sometimes in considerably higher doses than the FDA allows conditionally. "The presence of this known human carcinogen in sunscreen products widely recommended for the prevention of skin cancer and regularly used in large quantities by adults and children makes this finding very troubling," the company stated in a May 24 citizen petition to the FDA. The petition also contains the list of potentially contaminated products.
What is benzene found in sunscreen?
At room temperature, benzene is a colorless or slightly yellowish flammable liquid that occurs naturally in the environment and is also used as a solvent in plastics and other products. However, it is acutely hazardous in high amounts. It is generally known that long-term exposure can increase a person's risk of cancer, especially when it is present in cigarette smoke.
Benzene may potentially increase the risk of blood cancers such as leukemia. The FDA does not allow the purposeful addition of benzene to pharmaceuticals or consumer products it regulates. Still, it does set a safety threshold of 2 parts per million for its presence if it is unavoidable.
On the other hand, Sunscreens are not currently recognized by the FDA as a potential source of benzene. Valisure claimed to have found benzene at levels higher than two ppm in some samples.
"In sunscreen products, there is no such thing as a safe quantity of benzene," said Christopher Bunick, MD, Ph.D., associate professor of dermatology at Yale University in New Haven, as per Med Page Today.
Because most sunscreens the firm tested did not contain benzene, the company claimed that the health agency should not allow any amount of benzene. In a statement made by Valisure, Christopher Bunick, an associate professor of dermatology at Yale University, said, "There is no safe level of benzene that can occur in sunscreen lotions. Benzene at 0.1 ppm in a sunscreen could expose people to dangerously high nanogram levels of benzene," Gizmodo reported.
The findings are alarming in light of recent data from the FDA that sunscreen ingredients can be rapidly absorbed through the skin, maybe in higher quantities than expected. Scientists have yet to assess whether this poses a risk to anyone, but it is still more reason why the FDA should act quickly, said the business.
Valisure's petition requests that the FDA recall the benzene-contaminated items and conduct an inquiry. The lab also wants the FDA to rethink how it regulates these products, which is a timely request given that the agency is currently working on the next iteration of its sunscreen regulations. For those who use sunscreen daily, Valisure has offered a list of sunscreen products that don't appear to contain benzene, as well as recommendations on how to dispose of goods that may contain benzene, which is a risk to marine life.