QWhat do I tell my patients about benzene contamination in sunscreen?

Richard Winkelmann, DO

Richard Winkelmann, DO

Director for Dermatology and Mohs Surgery
Optum Care
Los Angeles, CA

In May 2021, an FDA-independent laboratory named Valisure detected benzene in many of the 294 commercially available sunscreen products that were tested. Seventy-eight products had detectable levels of benzene and 14 contained amounts that significantly surpassed allowable amounts by the FDA.1 Benzene is a known carcinogen but UV light causes cancer as well and most dermatologists believe the benefits of wearing sunscreen far outweigh any potential risks from benzene contamination.2 

All of the products from this study demonstrating benzene contamination have been recalled by the FDA so patients do not need to worry about accidently picking one up. Benzene was not detected in the majority of the products tested but this should be uniform across all sunscreen manufacturers. To me, the presence of benzene in these products indicates that relying on industry to self-report these findings does not provide sufficient protection from potentially dangerous contamination. 

  1. Light et al. Valisure 2021
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About Benzene 2018