J&J recalls 5 sunscreen sprays found to contain carcinogen benzene

Johnson & Johnson is recalling five of its aerosol sunscreen products. Above, images of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreen, one of the recalled products.

Johnson & Johnson is recalling five of its aerosol sunscreen products. Above, images of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreen, one of the recalled products. (Image credit: Neutrogena/Johnson & Johnson)

Johnson & Johnson is recalling five of its aerosol sunscreen products after the sprays were found to contain low levels of the chemical benzene, a known human carcinogen.

The company made the announcement this week after conducting its own internal tests. The recalled products are: Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen, Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport aerosol sunscreen, Neutrogena Invisible Daily defense aerosol sunscreen, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreen and Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen, according to a statement from the company. The recall applies to all sizes and SPFs of these products, according to The Washington Post.

The recall comes a few months after the independent testing lab Valisure found benzene in 78 sunscreen products, including Neutrogena and Aveeno products, Live Science previously reported. At that time, Valisure petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to recall the 78 products and for the agency to conduct its own investigation into the manufacturing of these products. 

According to the Post, Johnson & Johnson began investigating its products for benzene after seeing the Valisure report.

Benzene is a colorless or light yellow liquid that forms naturally but is also produced by human activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For example, automobile emissions and the burning of coal and oil can release benzene into the air.

Exposure to high levels of benzene causes cancer in humans, particularly blood cancer, including leukemia. The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration limits workplace exposure to benzene in the air to 1 part per million (ppm) on an average day and a maximum of 5 ppm over a 15-minute period, according to the American Cancer Society. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits benzene in drinking water to 0.005 ppm, or 5 parts per billion (ppb), which is also the limit for bottled water.

Johnson & Johnson did not reveal the levels of benzene found in its products, but said that, based on EPA guidelines, "daily exposure to benzene in these aerosol sunscreen products at the levels detected in our testing would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences." Still, the company made the voluntary recall "out of an abundance of caution," the statement said.

The company is investigating how benzene ended up in the products, as the chemical is not intentionally added as an ingredient. Consumers should stop using the recalled products and discard them, and use an alternative sunscreen for sun production, according to the statement.

The Environmental Working Group (EWR) recommends that people avoid aerosol sunscreens altogether, as spray sunscreens may not provide adequate sun protection and could pose a risk of inhalation of chemicals. Instead, EWG recommends people use sunscreen lotions.

Originally published on Live Science.  

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.