Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Benzene and Sunscreens—What You Need to Know

Posted on: June 28th, 2021 by Kristen Chang

You may have seen headlines linking sunscreens to cancer. We’ve seen them too, and have thoroughly reviewed and analyzed the scientific findings behind them.

Facts on Benzene and Sunscreen:

  • The reported cancer link is due to a toxic chemical called benzene.
  • Benzene is not an active ingredient in sunscreen. It is a byproduct accidentally formed in the manufacturing process of some, but not most, sunscreens.
  • About one-third of drugstore brand sunscreens tested contained potentially harmful levels of benzene. Two-thirds did not.
  • Benzene is linked to leukemia, a blood cancer responsible for about 23,000 U.S. deaths per year. Skin cancer causes 22,000 U.S. deaths per year—15,000 from squamous cell carcinoma and 7,000 from melanoma.

Dermatologist-Recommended Actions to Take:

  • Check the lists (link below) of sunscreens found to contain toxic levels of benzene.
  • If any questionable sunscreens are on your shelves, consider taking them to your nearest household hazardous waste disposal facility. Do not flush them down the drain into the water supply.
  • Replace any questionable sunscreens with one of California Skin Institute’s specially formulated sunscreens, as directed by your board-certified dermatologist, or with a sunscreen product on the tested list found to be free of benzene contamination.

How was Benzene Discovered in Common Sunscreen Brands?

Valisure, a Connecticut-based online pharmacy and laboratory, tested and analyzed 294 batches of sunscreens from 69 different companies and found 78 sunscreen and after-sun care products contained benzene. They issued a report on their analysis on May 25.

Their report states that “27% of samples tested by Valisure contained detectable benzene and some batches contained up to three times the conditionally restricted FDA concentration limit of 2 parts per million (ppm).”

They further state, “It is important to note that not all sunscreen products contain benzene and that uncontaminated products are available, should continue to be used, and are important for protecting against potentially harmful solar radiation.”

The lab sent out their report as part of a petition demanding that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recall many of the products found to contain benzene. They want the FDA to recall 40 sunscreen and after-sun care products found to contain the highest levels of benzene.

You can read the full Valisure report here, which includes the lists of sunscreens found to contain various levels of benzene, from harmless to questionable to toxic.

Safe Sunscreen Guidelines

Sunscreens are still relatively new. In the 1960s, teenagers dancing on the beach to Beatles songs were slathering themselves with oils and lotions designed to encourage the sun’s UV rays to tan their skin. However, tanning is a process that has traditionally been associated with making leather. It soon became clear why. In years to come, those suntan-loving teens became adults contending with wrinkles, lines, dark spots and skyrocketing rates of skin cancer. Sunscreens began to replace sun tanning products in popularity. It is an evolving science, and as we see from this new information about benzene forming in some sunscreen products, there is still much to learn.

There are some things we know for certain about optimal sunscreen use:

  • Sunscreens take a full 30 minutes to become effective. You need to put on sunscreen before you get to the beach or any other outdoor summer destination. And remember, sunscreen only works if you put enough on—two tablespoons’ worth for your body and a nickel-sized dab for your face.
  • Whatever else you put on your face—toner, moisturizer, blemish medication—apply sunscreen last. Let any other product absorb for two to five minutes before adding sunscreen. Applying another product on top can dilute the sunscreen and alter its efficacy.
  • Reapply sunscreen every several hours or after immersing in water or working up a sweat. There is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen.
  • Opt for SPF 30 – SPF 50. According to the FDA, SPFs higher than 50 have not been proven to provide additional clinical benefit and may cause harm in the long run by giving people a false sense of protection.

For professional help choosing the best sunscreen for your skin, taking into account your age, skin type, lifestyle and any chronic skin conditions you may have, make an appointment with a California Skin Institute board-certified dermatologist.

Be assured that California Skin Institute’s family of sunscreens remains safe and reliable. Our sunscreens, like all of our skincare lines, are formulated and tested specifically for use by our patients. Carefully made in small batches, our products contain only the best ingredients sourced from top quality suppliers.

We are uncompromising in maintaining our products’ purity and safety.