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Valisure Identifies Benzene in Antiperspirant Body Sprays

If you do not want benzene in hand sanitizers or sunscreens, why would you want benzene in antiperspirant body sprays? Where is the FDA?

Valisure announced that it has: “…tested and detected high levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen, in several brands and batches of antiperspirant body sprays…” According to Valisure, 54% of the samples it tested had detectable benzene levels and “some batches contained up to nine times the conditionally restricted FDA concentration limit of 2 parts per million (ppm).” We suspect that most people would prefer to avoid benzene in antiperspirant sprays. This reader certainly does!

Breathing in Benzene:

Q. I was disappointed to read that so many popular aerosol antiperspirants and deodorants contain benzene. What about other aerosol products, like hairsprays, air fresheners and cleaning products? Do they also contain benzene? How much more are we breathing in unknowingly, without fair warning?

A. We started worrying about benzene in consumer products about a year ago. At that time, the testing laboratory Valisure reported benzene contamination of many hand sanitizers. The FDA eventually notified consumers not to use certain products that contained benzene.

Since that announcement, Valisure has discovered benzene in other aerosol products including a number of popular sunscreens, antiperspirants and body sprays. On Feb. 16, 2022, the FDA published a company announcement that Sure and Brut Aerosol Sprays were being recalled because of benzene.

The products in question have “expiration dates on or before August 2023.”

The announcement states that:

“Benzene is classified as a human carcinogen. Exposure to benzene can occur by inhalation, orally, and through the skin and it can result in cancers including leukemia and blood cancer of the bone marrow and blood disorders which can be life-threatening.”

No one is certain why the benzene is showing up in aerosol products, but Valisure has proposed that petroleum products such as butane or propane used in the propellants could be a source of the contamination. That might mean that many other aerosols are also problematic.

The FDA has no power to remove contaminated OTC products from the marketplace. It can only request “voluntary” recalls. Stop! Reread those two sentences please. Did you know that the FDA can only ask, request, cajole companies to remove tainted products? The agency has no power to protect the American public from contaminated products. That is our definition of a paper tiger!

The Benzene Blues:

Valisure has been testing generic pharmaceuticals and consumer products for years. It uncovered problems with contaminants in ARB-type blood pressure pills such as valsartan. Valisure also detected nitrosamines in the heartburn drug ranitidine (Zantac) and some metformin formulations to treat diabetes.

More recently, Valisure found benzene in some sunscreens and hand sanitizers. You can read about benzene in sunscreens at this link  and benzene in hand sanitizers here.

Now, Valisure has tested for benzene in antiperspirants and deodorants. It tested over 100 unique batches from 30 different brands.

Where Is the Benzene in Antiperspirant Products Coming From?

According to Valisure:

“Many petroleum products are used as raw materials or inactive ingredients in consumer healthcare products. In particular with body sprays, ‘propellants’ like butane, isobutane, propane, and alcohol are commonly used and could potentially be sources of benzene contamination.”

Butane? Propane? Really? I suspect that most people have no idea what propels their antiperspirant out of the container. Of the 108 body spray products that were analyzed, 77 used butane and 60 also had propane in the propellant. Over half of these had some benzene as well.

Benzene in Antiperspirant Products Is Unacceptable!

In its Citizen Petition to the FDA about Benzene in Body Spray Products Valisure states:

“Antiperspirant body sprays are considered over-the-counter drugs and certain deodorant body sprays are considered cosmetics that are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”). Valisure has tested and detected high levels of benzene in specific batches of body spray products, some of which contain active pharmaceutical ingredients aluminum chlorohydrate or aluminum sesquichlorohydrate…Because many of the body spray products Valisure tested did not contain detectable levels of benzene, it does not appear that benzene use is unavoidable for their manufacture, and considering the long history and widespread use of these products, it also does not appear that they currently constitute a significant therapeutic advance; therefore, any significant detection of benzene should be deemed unacceptable.

“Valisure acquired body spray product samples from many retailers and in many different formulations. Although Valisure has made a good faith effort to obtain samples reasonably representative of the general supply, many brands and formulations are not included in Valisure’s analysis presented in this Petition. Even in this limited survey of certain available body spray products within the United States, multiple samples contained significantly detectable benzene and some batches contained up to about 9 times the conditionally restricted limit. There was significant variability from batch to batch, even within a single brand, underscoring the importance of batch-level chemical analysis and the necessity of overall increased quality surveillance of these pharmaceutical and consumer products.”

Which Products Were Contaminated?

According to ConsumerLab.com (Nov. 4, 2021):

“Among sprays, the highest average concentrations of benzene (2 ppm to 16 ppm) were in 16 products from Secret, Tag, and Old Spice, Equate, Sure, Suave, Brut, and Right Guard — although not all products from these brands had high or detectable levels of benzene. The next highest average concentrations of benzene (0.1 to 2 ppm) were in eleven products from Secret, Right Guard, Summer’s Eve, Suave, Old Spice, Soft & Dri, Victoria’s Secret, and Powder Stick.”

“No detectable benzene was found in sprays from Axe, Azzaro, Davidoff, Designer Imports, Duke Cannon, Gold Bond, Guy Laroche, Hollister, Kenneth Cole, Prince Matchabelli, and Speed Stick.”

Hint to Avoid Benzene in Antiperspirant Body Sprays:

ConsumerLab.com notes that:

“Aluminum chlorohydrate (anhydrous) was the listed key active ingredient in most products, regardless of their level of benzene, and is unlikely to account for the presence of benzene. It is more likely that the benzene arose from other ingredients in the products, such as butane, a propellant in sprays.”

If some sprays have benzene because of the propellants, an easy fix would be to avoid such a delivery system. That means that roll-on or stick deodorants should be safer.

That is why our MoM (milk of magnesia) deodorants contain neither aluminum nor benzene. They are roll-ons, not aerosols! Read more about them at this link.

What Do You Think?

Are you surprised that antiperspirant makers use butane and propane as propellants? Should the FDA be more vigilant about potential cancer-causing contaminants such as benzene in antiperspirant products? Share your thoughts in the comment section below. If you think someone might benefit from this article, please send it along via the email icon at the top of the page.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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