5 Safe Sunscreens That Skincare Professionals Recommend Trying After the Benzene Recall
Summer's in full swing, which means sun protection is (or should be!) top of mind. But with the recent recall of some common sunscreens that were found to contain traces of benzene—a toxic chemical that's classified as a group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization— it's only natural to feel alarmed.
If this is news to you, let us catch you up. Pharmacy group Valisure, which routinely audits consumer goods, put out a report in May 2021 that small levels of benzene were detected in a number of popular sun care products due to contamination (likely during the manufacturing process). It compiled a complete list of contaminated products and started petitioning the FDA to issue a recall.
The group said it analyzed 294 unique batches of sunscreen and after-sun products from 69 brands, and concluded that 78 batches were found to contain detectable levels of benzene. Exposure to the chemical can "increase the risk of developing leukemia and other blood disorders," per the National Cancer Institute—but we don't know if small amounts of benzene pose the same cancer risk as "repeated and high-level benzene exposures," Jennifer N. Choi, MD, chief of the division of oncodermatology at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, previously told Health. And among those 78 contaminated batches, some contained up to three times the limit the FDA allows even under special circumstances, according to Valisure.
Before you toss out every SPF product in your cabinet, take a deep breath and read on. We asked two skincare professionals for their honest answers about what we should really be concerned about, and—most importantly—which sunscreens they suggest using from here on out.
"Yes, some sunscreens were found to be contaminated with benzene, but they were pulled off the market quickly. We definitely shouldn't avoid sunscreens. Remember, the best sunscreen is the one you are going to use," esthetician Cassandra Bankson tells Health. "Yes, there were some contaminated batches that should be assessed and avoided. But other manufacturers, other brands, and even other formulas were not a part of those specific contaminated batches—and those are still safe and effective. So slather on SPF every day and protect yourself."
"It's really unfortunate the recall happened, but I want to emphasize that consumers should not be afraid of using sunscreen. This is the time to step up and educate ourselves. The reality is that even if you used any of the contaminated sunscreens, your risk is still very low. Most people don't apply and reapply enough sunscreen as it is, so their exposure would be extremely minimal," he said.
Most importantly, Dr. Portela emphasizes the importance of keeping up with sun protection. "As a dermatologist, I still and will always encourage patients to look for SPF 30 or higher and recommend reapplying throughout the day. SPF 50+ might have better protection under real world circumstances, so you can't go wrong," he added, recommending the SPF 35 sunscreen stick from Oars + Alps ($22; amazon.com) and MDSolarSciences' Mineral Creme with SPF 50 ($30; amazon.com) as safe alternatives if you're concerned about benzene contamination.
It's safe to say that while the benzene recall was startling news at first, upon closer inspection, there's no reason to avoid the very product that dermatologists have always encouraged us to embrace.
Starting at just $15 on Amazon, the benzene-free sunscreens below come highly recommended by Bankson and Dr. Portela. Shop their five picks, and don't forget to slather up consistently as you enjoy the rest of your summer.