Sunscreen helps protect against skin cancer, but a shocking recall of one of America’s favorite brands reveals that the very product that is supposed to protect against the sun’s harmful rays, can be carcinogenic itself. An internal review of Banana Boat Hair and Scalp Sunscreen Spray SPF 30 found some samples contained trace levels of benzene, classified as a human carcinogen.
According to CNN, Edgewell Personal Care Co., the manufacturer of Banana Boat products, has issued a national recall of three batches of the sunscreen spray. These batches have expiration dates of December 2022, February 2023, or April 2024. While benzene is not an ingredient of the spray, says Edgewell, “unexpected levels” of the carcinogen were discovered in the propellent that sprays the product out of the can, according to a company announcement, that also lists the UPC numbers of the tainted sunscreen.
Last year, the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson announced it was voluntarily recalling 14 sunscreen products from five different product lines after finding benzene, a known carcinogen, in some popular sunscreens.
J&J recommended that consumers stop using and discard its Aveeno and Neutrogena aerosolized sunscreens. The company also notified distributors and retailers to stop selling the sprays and arranged for the return of the products, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization that provides consumers with information on creating a healthy lifestyle and environment.
Benzene, a popular industrial chemical, is not used as an ingredient in the sunscreen formulations, so it is not listed on product labels. But it may have contaminated the products during the manufacturing process, says EWG, or in the case of the Banana Boat spray, appear in the propellent.
According to ConsumerLab.com, the Food and Drug Administration suggests that no level of benzene is safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links long-term exposure to benzene to leukemia and other blood cancers.
“For 15 years, EWG has warned consumers about the health hazards linked to harmful ingredients that may be used in sunscreens,” said Carla Burns, EWG’s senior director of cosmetic science. “In that time, we’ve seen a substantial rise in sunscreen sprays.”
EWG researchers advise that consumers should avoid all spray and powder sunscreen products. In May, the organization released its annual Guide to Sunscreens. The best-scoring recreational sunscreens on EWG’s list contain the mineral-based active ingredients zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or both, since they have fewer health concerns and offer good sun protection. Zinc oxide, especially, provides good protection from both UVA and UVB rays, and it is stable in the sun.
Aside from possible benzene exposure, choosing a lotion instead of a spray is recommended because sunscreen sprays pose inhalation risks and may provide inadequate protection. If you must use a pump or spray, apply it to your hands first and then wipe it on your skin.
Shoppers can download EWG’s Healthy Living App to get ratings and safety information on sunscreens and other personal care products. EWG’s sunscreen label decoder can also help consumers looking for safer sunscreens.
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