Product Liability

Chemical in sunscreens linked to cancer

August 12, 2022

Benzene, a known carcinogen, has been detected in certain major sunscreen brands, including several manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.

We use sunscreen to help shield the skin from harmful exposure to UVA and UVB rays. After all, exposure to the sun is one of the leading causes of skin cancer. Unfortunately, Benzene, a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance), has been detected in certain major sunscreen brands, including several manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.  

An article published by Valisure Laboratories on May 25, 2021, exposed a list of over 70 sunscreens, including Neutrogena and Aveeno, that were found to have dangerous levels of Benzene. Specifically, Valisure found Benzene in 27% of the samples it tested at levels that were nearly three times the concentration limit of 2 parts per million set by the Food and Drug Administration.

Sunscreens recalled

Partially prompted by Valisure’s findings, on July 14, 2021, Johnson & Johnson issued a voluntary recall of five of its products:  

  • NEUTROGENA® Beach Defense® aerosol sunscreen
  • NEUTROGENA® Cool Dry Sport aerosol sunscreen
  • NEUTROGENA® Invisible Daily™ defense aerosol sunscreen
  • NEUTROGENA® Ultra Sheer® aerosol sunscreen
  • AVEENO® Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen

Cancers linked to Benzene exposure  

Benzene is a colorless or light-yellow liquid chemical used in various products but is not listed as an ingredient in any sunscreen product. The International Agency for Research on cancer lists Benzene as a known carcinogen and exposure to it has been linked to various cancers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also determined that sunscreens containing Benzene may cause cancer.  As stated by Dr. Christopher Bunick, Associate Professor of Dermatology at Yale University: “There is not a safe level of Benzene that can exist in sunscreen products.”

When sunscreen containing Benzene is applied to the skin, the body absorbs it into the bloodstream, where it can cause cancer. Exposure to Benzene has been shown to cause a higher risk of being diagnosed with the following cancers:

  • blood cancers
  • Aplastic anemia
  • non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Myelodysplastic Syndrome
  • Multiple myeloma

Additionally, Benzene exposure may cause pregnant women to develop the following diagnoses:

  • low birthweight
  • Spina Bifida
  • increased risk of developing leukemia
  • increased risk of birth defects

Sunscreen litigation is progressing

Lawsuits over sunscreen containing toxic substances have already been filed in five different federal district courts across the country. To move this potential litigation forward, plaintiff attorneys, and even Johnson & Johnson, have proposed centralizing lawsuits in this matter in one court through the process of “Multidistrict Litigation” (MDL).

Lawyers involved in this litigation believe that creating an MDL will streamline discovery and provide a forum to deal with multiple plaintiffs and products.  "The prospect of multiple plaintiffs' attorneys simultaneously litigating the same issues — in multiple courts, and on behalf of overlapping putative classes of consumers — is not only inefficient, but essentially unworkable," J&J attorneys recently stated in a legal brief.

Sunscreen is supposed to prevent cancer, not cause it. Benzene has no place in a product that many apply to their skin on a daily basis for years.  If you or a loved one have used one of these sunscreen products and developed a blood related cancer, you may be entitled to significant damages without ever going to court.  Main Street law Firm will continue to monitor this ongoing litigation and provide future updates.

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