The company says it issued the voluntary recall 'out of an abundance of caution.'

By Karen Pallarito
July 15, 2021
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Check the sprays in your beach bag. On Wednesday, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) voluntarily recalled five of its aerosol sunscreens after product testing detected low levels of benzene, a known carcinogen.

J&J said consumers should no longer use the products and instructed people to appropriately discard them. The recall affects four Neutrogena aerosol sunscreens—Beach Defense, Cool Dry Sport, Invisible Daily defense, and Ultra Sheer—and Aveeno Protect + Refresh.

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Credit: Getty Images / Aveeno / Neutrogena

The company noted that benzene is not an ingredient in any of its sunscreens but that internal testing identified low levels of the substance in some product samples.

"Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling all lots of these specific aerosol sunscreen products," the company said in a news release issued Wednesday evening.

The news comes after Valisure LLC, an independent testing lab, filed a "citizen petition" in May calling on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to recall batches of sunscreen products from a number of different manufacturers after the lab's own testing detected the cancer-causing chemical in certain batches of sunscreen and after-sun products, including three of the Neutrogena products now under recall.

David Light, Valisure's founder and CEO, previously told Health that benzene is "very likely a contaminant from the manufacturing process."

In announcing the recall, J&J said daily exposure to benzene in these aerosol sunscreen products at the levels detected through its testing "would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences." The company said it is investigating the cause of the problem.

Benzene is a chemical used primarily as a solvent in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, per the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Exposure to benzene boosts the risk of developing leukemia and other blood disorders, the Institute notes.

People are primarily exposed to benzene by inhaling it, says NCI, although J&J pointed out that it can also be absorbed through the skin and orally.

Cigarette smoke is a major source of exposure, and workers in industries that use or produce benzene are also at risk, says NCI. Outdoor air contains low levels, too, from secondhand smoke, gasoline fumes, motor vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions.

While consumers should stop using the specific recalled products, it's important to continue taking appropriate sun protection measures, J&J notes, and that includes using sunscreen. Most skin cancers are caused by excess exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun as well as tanning beds and sunlamps, says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen can help protect against UV damage.

All of the recalled products are packaged in aerosol cans and distributed nationwide, J&J said. Consumers are invited to contact the company at 1-800-458-1673 with questions or to request a refund.

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