Cancer-causing chemical benzene found in popular acne products: U.S. lab

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Cancer-causing chemical benzene found in popular acne products: U.S. lab
An independent U.S. lab found high levels of benzene, a carcinogen, in several over-the-counter acne products. It is now calling on the FDA to take action. Global's Nathaniel Dove reports – Mar 6, 2024

A U.S. lab says it has detected benzene, a chemical that causes cancer, in several popular, over-the-counter acne products including those from brands like Clearasil, ProActiv, Walmart and Clinique, among others.

Valisure, an independent lab whose discovery of benzene in dry shampoo in 2022 prompted the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada to issue recalls, reported that its “extensive testing” revealed the same carcinogen can form at high levels in benzoyl peroxide products used to treat acne, and that it found it in products from the brands it tested.

Health Canada, the World Health Organization and FDA all state benzene can cause cancer.

“High levels of benzene were not only detected inside BPO (benzoyl peroxide) products, but also in the air around incubated BPO products,” Valisure’s report stated, “showing that benzene can leak out of some product packages and pose a potential inhalation risk.”

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The report also stated that benzene can form “over 800 times” the FDA conditionally restricted concentration limit in products and that “the current evidence suggests that this problem applies broadly to BPO products currently on the market.”

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The lab detected the benzene levels it says raise concerns in 66 benzoyl peroxide-containing acne treatment products incubated at 50 C for 18 days. Some of those brands include Reckitt Benckiser’s Clearasil, ProActiv, Estee Lauder’s Clinique and Walmart’s Equate Beauty acne cream, among others.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Reckitt said the company is confident all Clearasil products are safe when used and stored as directed.

“The findings presented by an independent lab today reflect unrealistic scenarios rather than real-world conditions,” the statement said.

The other companies did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

The FDA has also not yet responded.

David Light, the lab’s president, said the benzene detection in acne treatments is substantially different from the discovery (and subsequent recalls) in other products like hand sanitizers and sunscreens because those were impurities that came from contaminated ingredients.

“The benzene in benzoyl peroxide products is coming from the benzoyl peroxide itself, sometimes at hundreds of times the conditional FDA limit,” he is quoted as saying in the report.

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Valisure filed a petition with the FDA requesting the agency recall and suspend the sale of products containing benzoyl peroxide and further examine the products and how they’re manufactured.

Global News asked Health Canada for comment and what action it would take. It did not immediately answer.

Benzene exposure, by inhalation or absorption, through the mouth or skin, can result in leukemia, blood cancer of the bone marrow, and blood disorders which can be life-threatening, Health Canada previously told Global News.

— with files from Global News’ Saba Aziz and Reuters’ Deborah Sophia.

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