Soak into Benzene

My family was invited to a kid’s birthday party the other day. It was beautiful summer day, so we went to the private community swimming pool after lunch. The swimming pool is managed by an affluent suburban neighborhood association. I assume that the majority of the members are well educated professionals, like doctors, lawyers, CEOs, investment bankers. However, I was shocked to see many people using conventional sunscreen, on not only themselves but also on their small kids.  I know we are too busy to spend time on finding out what products are not harmful to our body. So, I will give you the list of ingredients that you should avoid in the sunscreen. Remember, you use sunscreen pretty often over the summer, the result of accumulation of toxic chemicals could be something really devastating.  

Sunscreen is designed to protect us from sunburn, skin cancer, early skin aging and other risks of overexposure to the sun. However, many of the sunscreens on the market today are more harmful than beneficial, and some even contain a cancer-causing chemicals, like Benzene, which is a carcinogen that can cause cancer in humans. It has caused cancer in workers exposed to high levels from workplace air. Benzene exposure increases the risk of developing leukemia and other blood disorders, according the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Also, the FDA classifies it as a Category 1 Solvent, which means that Benzene shouldn’t be used to manufacture drugs or drug products unless it’s unavoidable. However, a recent study revealed that 78 out of 294 different sunscreen and after-sun products had more than the restricted FDA concentration limit.    Some of those non compliant products are:   

  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Weightless Sunscreen Spray, SPF 70 and SPF 100+
  • Neutrogena Beach Defense Oil-Free Body Sunscreen Spray, SPF 100 
  • Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera Gel 
  • Banana Boat Kids Max Protect & Play Sunscreen C-Spray, SPF 100
  • EltaMD UV Aero Broad-Spectrum Fully-Body Sunscreen Spray, SPF 45 
  • Sun Bum Cool Down Gel 
  • Raw Elements Eco Formula Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30 
  • CVS Health After-sun Aloe Vera Soothing Spray 
  • Goodsense Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30

Even if you are not using any of the products listed above, your friends or someone else at the beach or swimming pool might be using them. You can inhale benzene from one of the spray products.  So, Valisure, the company analyzed these sunscreens and after-sun products, petitioned the FDA to recall the 78 products and to conduct its own investigation into the manufacturing of these products.  

Moreover, in 2019 FDA published a proposed guideline to reclassify 16 sunscreen monograph ingredients that were categorized safe back in 1999.   Of the 16 currently marketed active ingredients, two ingredients – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – are GRASE (Generally Recognized As Safe and Effective) for use in sunscreens; two ingredients – PABA and trolamine salicylate – are not GRASE for use in sunscreens due to safety issues. There are 12 ingredients for which there are insufficient safety data to make a positive GRASE determination at this time. Please see below. 

 After the proposal, a follow-up study was conducted to further determine how much certain sunscreens are absorbed and processed by the body. The FDA reported that six chemical sunscreen actives (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate and octinoxate) available in four commercially available sunscreen products enter the bloodstream even after a single application, and the chemical concentration was higher than the FDA threshold. The researchers also found that these chemical sunscreen ingredients remain on the skin for up to two weeks.   

Moreover, there are several studies that many chemical-based sunscreens are estrogen mimickers and endocrine disruptors. These chemicals end up in the rivers, lakes and oceans we play in, then animals and aquatic wildlife expose to endocrine disruptors and become susceptible to ill effects similar to those faced by humans. In fact that Hawaii bans sunscreens containing oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone and octocrylene.   So, here is the list of ingredients that you need to avoid.  

Name Coral Safe Ban in HawaiiHormone Disruptor EWG Hazard Score 
3-Benzylidene Camphor No     N/A 
4-Methylbenzylidene Camphor No     
Avobenzone No Yes    
Benzophenone-1  No     
Cinoxate       N/A 
Dioxybenzone (benzophenone-8)       N/A 
Ensulizole       2-3 
Homosalate     Yes 
Meradimate (Menthyl anthranilate)       
Nano-Titanium Dioxide No     N/A 
Nano-Zinc Oxide No     N/A 
Octinoxate (known as octyl methozycinnamate) No Yes  Yes 
Octocrylene No Yes    2-3 
Oxybenzone (Known as benzophenone-3) No Yes  Yes 
PABA No     
Padimate O       3-5 
Retinyl palmitate (synthetic Vitamin A):     Yes 
Titanium Dioxide No (if high content)     

I know there are a lot, so stick to the sunscreen whose active ingredients are Zinc oxide and/or Mexoryl SX (Ecamsule).  

Have fun in the sun!


National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Endocrine Disruptors. National Institute of Health website. Last revised Jan 8, 2016. Available at:…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s