The company Edgewell Personal Care has issued a voluntary recall of Banana Boat hair and scalp sunscreen spray that was sold online and in retail stores across the country.
A review of sunscreen samples found “trace levels” of benzene — an odorless, colorless toxic chemical — in the product, according to a warning shared by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday. Benzene is not an ingredient used in Banana Boat products, and the review indicated that the chemical unintentionally came from a propellant used to spray the product from the can.
The recall applies to four batches of spray with a sun protection factor of 30. Outside of these, no other Banana Boat products are being recalled. No adverse events have been reported, but Edgewell is advising customers to toss any can with one of the affected lot codes on the bottom.
We’re all exposed to low levels of benzene in our daily lives, as it’s ubiquitous in the environment and commonly used in plastic and rubber products. But it can become a threat to people’s health if they are exposed to very high amounts or to too much over an extended period of time. And because it’s a known carcinogen, health experts say it’s best to avoid the substance.
“Benzene is on the same playing field as asbestos and lead. Many scientists agree that there is no safe level of benzene,” said Dr. Chris Bunick, a Yale Medicine dermatologist who researches the health effects of the chemical.
What Is Benzene?
Benzene is naturally found in the environment — in air, water and soil — and in many plastics, detergents, pesticides and synthetic fibers. Tobacco smoke and vehicle exhaust also contain benzene. According to Bunick, it occasionally gets into spray-based personal care products — like after-sun sprays and deodorant sprays — on accident during the manufacturing process. As a result, everyone is exposed to low amounts of benzene regularly, either through inhaling the chemical, consuming it or absorbing it through the skin.
Benzene can damage the immune system and affect how well our cells function. However, the health impacts largely depend on the level of contact. “Although all of us are exposed to low amounts of benzene on a daily basis, exposure to higher amounts of benzene is linked to harmful health effects,” said Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicologist and the interim executive director of the National Capital Poison Center.
In the short term, exposure to high levels of benzene could cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches and unconsciousness. At extremely high levels, it could cause death. In the long-term, which is defined as over a year of regular exposure, it can contribute to the development of cancer, including leukemia and other blood disorders. Long-term exposure has also been linked to irregular menstruation and decreased ovary size. The majority of people who have developed cancer after long-term benzene exposure worked in industrial settings that allowed for regular contact with high levels of the chemical, according to Johnson-Arbor.
Because the affected Banana Boat products contained low levels of benzene, health experts don’t expect them to cause any immediate issues if someone accidentally inhales the spray. “The amount of benzene found in these products was low and not expected to cause health effects,” Johnson-Arbor said.
What To Do If You Used The Sunscreen Or Have A Reaction To It
Benzene can been found in a variety of household products, such as antiperspirants and dry shampoos, so you’ll want to be mindful of where and how you use these items. Bunick advises his patients to avoid any type of spray or aerosol product since they regularly get contaminated with benzene.
As with asbestos, there typically aren’t short-term health effects, but issues could pop up later in life, he said. And because many cosmetic products are likely over-contaminated, people are being exposed to benzene in many places, he added. “It may take years or decades for the problem to arise. And by the time a long-term cancer arises, companies can say there is no evidence for direct causation,” Bunick said. To further avoid exposure, you can use these products in a well-ventilated area and avoid inhaling the contents, Johnson-Arbor suggests.
It’s unlikely that the affected Banana Boat sprays will trigger immediate health effects, since the concentrations detected in the products are lower than the levels of benzene that can cause even mild effects like lightheadedness, according to Johnson-Arbor.
If you have a reaction, however, or think you were exposed to higher levels of benzene, you first want to move away from the contaminated area and get some fresh air. After that, you’ll want to take off your clothes, wash your body with soap and water, and clean — or get rid of — your clothing. If you have signs of benzene poisoning, like respiratory depression or confusion, seek medical treatment ASAP.
You should submit a report about your experience to the FDA here. You can also download a form to detail your reaction here, print it out and mail it to the FDA.
If you have any questions or concerns, you can contact Poison Control 24 hours a day via its online chat service or by phone at 1-800-222-1222.