Understanding the Implications of Finding a Carcinogen in Commonly Used Acne Products

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Carcinogen in Commonly Used Acne Products: Annual public alarms around benzene in cosmetics have been going on for a while now. Everything from dry shampoos to sunscreen now contains high concentrations of the recognized carcinogen. Benzoyl peroxide acne treatments are the most recent to experience this. The chemical didn’t start out in these products; it was a waste product of some kind, either during manufacturing or breakdown.

“While benzene is not intentionally being added to skin-care products, it can end up in them in the form of a contaminant or as in the case of benzoyl peroxide, as a result of the breakdown of the ingredient,” according to Dr. Marisa Garshick. “While we haven’t seen benzene connected to benzoyl peroxide in the past, there have been prior concerns with benzene when it was found as a contaminant in certain sunscreens through testing performed by the same lab.”

“Benzene is a compound that is known to be a carcinogen,” states Dr. Garshick. “It is used as a solvent and can be found in gasoline and is a natural component of crude oil.”

About 95% to 100% of benzene exposure occurs through inhalation. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is more common among those who work in businesses that use benzene, such as the chemical industry, the shoemaking industry, and oil refining, according to the American Cancer Society. While some research has shown a possible connection to AML and other types of leukemia and blood malignancies, the evidence is weaker for these other conditions.

Research on animals has demonstrated that benzene, whether inhaled or eaten, can induce several tumor types. In vitro studies have shown that it can alter the genetic makeup of bone marrow cells, a feature commonly observed in human leukemia cells. Very little is known about the potential links between benzene and other malignancies.

A lot of the previous benzene incidents were associated with aerosol goods, which contain benzene in their propellant. Researchers at Valisure, an independent testing organization, found that benzene was produced in acne remedies as a byproduct of the degradation of benzoyl peroxide, the active ingredient in these products, during incubation at extremely high temperatures.

Research on benzene-containing cosmetics has also been conducted by Valisue. “It is important to note that these findings were released from an independent laboratory and the methods used still need to be further investigated and validated,” Dr. Garshick adds. “Overall, more data is needed to verify how to translate these findings into real life.”


What Are the Functions of Benzene?

Chemicals derived from benzolene are utilized in the manufacturing of numerous industrial products, such as pharmaceuticals, polymers, nylons, detergents, and resins. Gasoline also contains it.

Benzene levels in benzoyl peroxide products from names such as CeraVe, Clinique, La Roche-Posay, and Proactiv were found to be raised by Valisure. After 18 days of incubation at 122°F, these values were found. In 42 goods, Valisure found benzene levels above 10 ppm; in 17 products, it was over 100 ppm; and in 2 products, it was over 1,500 ppm. Benzene has a carcinogenicity level that the FDA has set at 2 pmm daily for humans.

“While it is difficult to interpret these findings and how they would apply to real-world scenarios, it is important to remember that some people may keep their benzoyl peroxide products in the bathroom, in their gym bag outside, or in the car, where even though the temperatures may not reach 100°F, temperatures may be higher and potentially contribute to some product breakdown,” Dr. Garshick adds. On particularly hot days, products may be subjected to even higher temperatures while in transit.

To what extent, however, topical benzene exposure can be harmful is an open question. “More information would be needed to better understand how much benzene gets absorbed by the skin and how this impacts overall health,” Dr. Garshick asserts.

Benzene in Topical Applicators

Recalls from companies like Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble occurred after Valisure discovered benzene in sunscreens and dry shampoos. In response to a 2021 J&J recall, a group of dermatologists looked into information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys conducted between 2003 and 2006 and 2009 and 2018. They concluded that adults in the US do not have higher blood concentrations of benzene when they use sunscreen.

Different Ways to Expose Oneself to Benzene

The environment is the primary source of benzene exposure. “Exposures can occur in the environment as a result of forest fires, volcanoes, cigarette smoke, and motor vehicle exhaust,” Dr. Garshick explains. Contaminated drinking water and certain foods also contain low quantities of benzene.

Consequently, what am I to do?

Do not freak out if you have used any items that contain benzene.
“Feeling concerned about these findings is normal,” Dr. Garshick explains. “Although the FDA has not issued a formal statement as of yet, it is prudent to delay using the goods on the list until further information is available. Until we have more information, it is reasonable to store benzoyl items in a cold place and not expose them to too much heat. However, keep in mind that benzene is already a part of our natural environment, so even while we should want to limit our exposure, it’s crucial to be mindful that we are already exposed.

Olivia Taylor

Olivia's love for the finer things in life and her front-row seat at fashion week bring readers the most luxurious and high-end fashion experiences the industry has to offer.

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