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Why have Johnson & Johnson sunscreens been recalled? Will other sunscreens be recalled this summer?

The products made by J&J were found to have higher-than-normal levels of benzene, a carcinogen which has been linked to cancer with repeated exposure.

Why was the Johnson & Johnson sunscreen recalled? Will other sunscreens be recalled this summer?
BRIAN SNYDER REUTERS

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson have confirmed that it is recalling five products from its sunscreen range after samples were shown to contain low levels of benzene, a chemical which has been linked to cancer with persistent exposure.

A statement from Johnson & Johnson said that traces of benzene had been discovered after testing by the company and a third-party laboratory and investigations are ongoing to discover how the chemical got into the sunscreens.

The products being recalled, all of which are packaged in aerosol cans, are Aveeno’s Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen, as well as four Neutrogena sunscreen versions: Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen, CoolDry Sport aerosol sunscreen, Invisible Daily Defense aerosol sunscreen and UltraSheer aerosol sunscreen.

What is benzene and why have the sunscreens been recalled?

The presence of benzene, a highly flammable but fairly common chemical, in the sunscreens has triggered the national recall because of the damage that repeated exposure can do. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that it damages the body’s immune system and prevents cells from functioning properly, which can cause cancer when individuals are exposed to high levels.

In smaller doses the symptoms of benzene poisoning can simply be a feeling of dizziness, but constant exposure, particularly in instance of inhalation or ingestion, can lead to an irregular heartbeat, convulsions and even death.

Johnson & Johnson have notified the Food and Drug Administration of the ongoing recall and the New Jersey-based manufacturer has urged customers to stop using the affected products immediately. Customers can get a refund on their sunscreen purchase by calling the company’s Consumer Care Center on 1-800-458-1673.

Johnson & Johnson responds to benzene concerns

Reports of benzene being found in several Johnson & Johnson sunscreens were first made public last month when CBS reported that online pharmacy and laboratory Valisure had found traces in their own tests.

They found that benzene was found in 78 of roughly 300 sprays and lotions that they tested, a rate of about 27%. They petitioned the FDA to recall the contaminated products immediately and the regulatory body took time to review their claim. Benzene is also found in products like cigarettes, gasoline, glue, adhesives, cleaning products and paint strippers but they typically come with warnings to advise customers.

In response to the news, Johnson and Johnson have released a statement confirming that they are “voluntarily recalling all lots of five NEUTROGENA® and AVEENO® aerosol sunscreen product lines to the consumer level.”

It continues: “While benzene is not an ingredient in any of our sunscreen products, it was detected in some samples of the impacted aerosol sunscreen finished products. We are investigating the cause of this issue, which is limited to certain aerosol sunscreen products.”