Carcinogen Found in Coppertone Sunscreens

Benzene continues to trigger recalls in products people apply to their skin
By Jennifer Margulis
Jennifer Margulis
Jennifer Margulis
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and author of “Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions for a Happier, Healthier Family.” A Fulbright awardee and mother of four, she has worked on a child survival campaign in West Africa, advocated for an end to child slavery in Pakistan on prime-time TV in France, and taught post-colonial literature to non-traditional students in inner-city Atlanta. Learn more about her at JenniferMargulis.net
October 5, 2021 Updated: October 7, 2021

Coppertone, which is owned by the German multinational skin care company Beiersdorf and headquartered in Whippany, New Jersey, has recalled five aerosol sunscreen sprays, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Sept. 30. These products have all been found to be tainted with benzene, a known carcinogen.

According to the FDA, 12 lots of aerosol spray products, all manufactured between Jan. 10 and June 15 are being voluntarily recalled. The specific products under recall are:

Coppertone Pure & Simple SPF 50 5.0 ounce aerosol sunscreen spray: Lot TNOOCJ4 and Lot TNOOBR2

Coppertone Pure & Simple Baby SPF 50 5.0 ounce aerosol sunscreen spray: Lot TN00857, Lot TN00CJV, Lot TN00854, and Lot TN00855

Coppertone Pure & Simple Baby SPF 50 5.0 ounce aerosol sunscreen spray: Lot TN009GH, Lot TN0083K, Lot TN0083J

Coppertone Sport Mineral SPF 50 5.0 oz aerosol sunscreen spray: Lot TN008KU and Lot TN008KV

Travel-size Coppertone Sport Spray SPF 50 1.6 ounce aerosol sunscreen spray: Lot TN00BU3

Coppertone will issue refunds for these sunscreens via an online request form, which will be available only until Oct. 6. 

But Coppertone isn’t the only company that has been inadvertently selling contaminated sunscreen. This past July, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., a New Brunswick, New Jersey-based company, voluntarily recalled all lots of four Neutrogena products and one Aveeno aerosol sunscreen product after their own internal testing identified benzene in the products.

The Bad News About Benzene 

Benzene is a colorless sweet-smelling liquid that evaporates quickly when exposed to air. It’s present in nature—from forest fires and volcanic activity—and is also a natural part of cigarette smoke, crude oil, and gasoline. However, the most human exposure to benzene comes from human activities. 

In fact, benzene is among the most widely used chemicals in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Benzene is used to make other chemicals, including detergents, drugs, dyes, lubricants, pesticides, and plastics.

One of the main ways humans are exposed to benzene is through breathing contaminated air. It’s harmful to breathe benzene-tainted fumes from art supplies, gasoline, glues, and paints, which is why good ventilation is important. Benzene can also be absorbed through the skin via consumer products.

Benzene is a known carcinogen, according to peer-reviewed scientific studies done in both animals and humans. Benzene exposure is known to damage bone marrow and cause anemia and has also been found to increase your risk of getting leukemia, as well as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers. 

Laura Orlando, who has been teaching classes on environmental health at Boston University for almost 20 years, argues that carcinogens such as benzene may play a role in triggering many different cancers.

“I’m exposed to benzenes because I live in a city, from car exhaust and cigarette smoke,” she said.

Orlando, 58, was diagnosed with breast cancer that had traveled into her lymphatic system six years ago.

“Exposure to benzene can occur through inhalation, oral, and skin and it could, depending on the level and extent of exposure, result in an increased risk of cancers including leukemia, and blood cancer of the bone marrow and other blood disorders which can be life-threatening,” the FDA’s Coppertone recall information reads.

“Daily exposure to benzene at the levels detected in these affected Coppertone aerosol sunscreen spray products would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences based on generally accepted exposure modeling by numerous regulatory agencies.”

Children Most Vulnerable

While the overall risk of exposure to benzene from these contaminated sun sprays may be small, the fact that two of the Coppertone products are specifically designed for babies may be cause for concern. 

According to scientists from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and the Instituto de Salud Carlos III in Madrid, Spain, writing in the journal Environmental Toxicology, “Children are uniquely susceptible to chemicals.” 

Infants and small children are at greater risk than adults because their bodies and brains are still developing, and they aren’t able to metabolize toxic compounds as effectively as adults.

“The skin surface area of children relative to body weight is greater for children than for adults,” the scientists said, “resulting in a higher potential dose absorbed through the skin of about three times greater for infants than for adults.”

Another Benzene-Tainted Product Recall

In March 2020, New Haven, Connecticut-based product testing company Valisure added benzene to the list of compounds they regularly tested for. Unfortunately, the company found detectable quantities of benzene in hand sanitizers. 

Valisure, which then filed a Citizen Petition with the FDA, found that 17 percent of the 260 bottles of hand sanitizer that they had tested contained benzene. The benzene content in 21 of the bottles was above the FDA’s safety limits for alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

“It’s shocking and frustrating to be detecting any levels of benzene is such a broadly used consumer product,” David Light, CEO of Valisure and father of five, told a reporter for Health.com. 

“Benzene’s toxicity in humans has been well known in the scientific community for over 120 years. It is arguably one of the most, if not most, known chemicals that can cause cancer in humans even at trace levels,” Light said.

About a month after Valisure filed the Citizen Petition, the FDA announced that one sanitizer manufacturer, Scentsational Soaps & Candles, was issuing a voluntary national recall of its scented hand sanitizer because of the presence of benzene, as well as two other chemicals: methanol and acetaldehyde. 

The FDA’s updated list of hand sanitizers consumers should avoid can be found on their website: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-updates-hand-sanitizers-consumers-should-not-use.

Do We Really Need Sunscreen?

Go to any beach in the United States and you’ll see parents slathering or spraying a sun-protective product on their children’s skin from head to toe. That’s because we’ve been told that we must protect ourselves and our children from the sun’s dangerous UV light. Too much sun exposure has long been linked to skin cancer, so much so that the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has asserted that any sun exposure is harmful.

“All sunscreens should be reapplied approximately every two hours when outdoors, even on cloudy days,” the AAD stated in a downloadable PDF on their website, recommending that every child older than the age of 6 months use a broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with a protection factor of 30 or higher.

But a growing number of scientists and medical doctors, including Dr. Richard Weller, a dermatologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, believe that our global fear of direct sun exposure is doing more harm than good. Weller’s research has found that sun exposure may actually lower blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and overall mortality.

According to an article in Outside Magazine, “Is Sunscreen the New Margarine?,” skin cancer kills fewer than three people per 100,000 in the United States each year and for every person who dies of skin cancer, more than a hundred people will die of cardiovascular diseases that sun exposure may help prevent.

Sun Better Than Supplements

“Tons of people are taking vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is a huge protector from COVID-19. But getting vitamin D through sunlight exposure is much better than taking a supplement,” said Stephanie Seneff, author of the book “Toxic Legacy” and senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “We need a lot more sun than we’re getting.”

Seneff recommended more outside time for both children and adults, which will help the body build up its natural resistance to sunburns. 

“If children are exposed to the sun in the spring, they develop a nice tan that will protect them from the summer sun,” Seneff said. “So then kids can handle the summer sun without burning. If you’re out of doors all the time, you’ll naturally get tan and the summer sun will be safe because of that tan. The tan provides protection.” 

Seneff insists that many sunscreens, even if they aren’t tainted with benzene, are toxic.

“Aluminum is one of the intentional ingredients in many sunscreens,” she said. “And aluminum gets absorbed through the skin and is very toxic.”  

The safest sunscreens don’t contain aluminum, according to Seneff.

“You don’t want to burn,” she said. “But the way to avoid it is to get a tan or just be careful. But there are better ways to protect against burns than sunscreen.” 

Seneff recommended staying in the shade, limiting exposure to the sun until your skin has naturally tanned, and wearing sun-protective clothing as alternatives to using sunscreen.

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., an award-winning writer and book author, is a frequent contributor to the Epoch Times. Find out more and sign up for her free weekly email at www.JenniferMargulis.net.

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist and author of “Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions for a Happier, Healthier Family.” A Fulbright awardee and mother of four, she has worked on a child survival campaign in West Africa, advocated for an end to child slavery in Pakistan on prime-time TV in France, and taught post-colonial literature to non-traditional students in inner-city Atlanta. Learn more about her at JenniferMargulis.net