What is benzene? Answering questions about the dry shampoo recall.


Unilever recommends no more than 12 aerosol dry shampoos as they may contain “high levels” of benzene, a naturally occurring chemical that can be carcinogenic at high levels and prolonged exposure. Removed.

A recall announced last week by the consumer goods giant is the latest related to benzene contamination rates in various aerosol products, including some sunscreens and deodorants.

The Washington Post spoke to aerosol and cosmetics experts about the recall and the health risks associated with continued exposure to benzene.

Which dry shampoo is Unilever recalling?

Unilever has announced a voluntary recall of its aerosol dry shampoo manufactured before October 2021 in the United States. In a statement, the company said there were no known “adverse events” associated with the recalled products, and that an “independent health hazard assessment” determined that daily exposure to benzene in the recalled products caused health problems. found to be unexpected.problem.

“Unilever US is recalling these products out of an abundance of caution,” the statement said. “Consumers should stop using affected aerosol dry shampoo products.”

The company offers refunds for certain products. here.

Benzene is a colorless or pale yellow liquid with a sweet smell. very flammable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency says it’s one of the top 20 chemicals used in the United States.It’s a “building block” of other chemicals and materials, according to the American Chemistry Council.

Benzene is commonly found in crude oil, according to the CDC. Companies use benzene to make plastics, resins, nylons, synthetic fibers, lubricants, rubber, dyes, detergents, chemicals, and pesticides.

Experts say we are exposed to benzene in the air we breathe every day, especially when we fill up our cars at petrol stations. Benzene is also found in certain cigarettes, detergents, adhesives, and paints.

How does benzene end up in your dry shampoo?

Unilever said the propellant in its dry shampoo spray cans is a source of benzene and is working with its suppliers to address the issue.

Butane, a petroleum product, is a common propellant in spray cans, says Chris Cappa, an environmental engineering professor at the University of California, Davis. If the butane refining process is “not very good,” you could end up with a gas that contains other components from the crude oil, such as benzene. “That gas is probably where this benzene is coming from,” Kappa said.

“If you want to limit your potential exposure to things like benzene from contaminated spray cans, you can make different choices about the products you use.

Using an aerosolized dry shampoo indoors rather than using a spray can of sunscreen outdoors allows benzene to dissolve more widely in the atmosphere, limiting the risk of exposure to high levels of benzene, Kappa said. So I said I wasn’t too worried.

Minneapolis-based cosmetic chemist Marisa Precia said dry shampoo is a “really basic” product that combines powdered starch, silica and fragrance to absorb oil from your hair. No company uses benzene on a regular basis. “It’s pollution,” said Precia.

Is benzene harmful to humans?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, inhaling, digesting, or absorbing benzene over a long period of time can lead to serious health problems, including cancers such as leukemia and other blood diseases.

Benzene slows down the amount of red blood cells produced by the bone marrow and can cause anemia, says the CDC. It can also damage the body’s immune system by altering blood levels of antibodies. Inhaling high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, headache, irregular heartbeat, and tremors.

High levels of benzene can cause vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and convulsions. Direct exposure to the eyes, skin, or lungs of benzene can damage tissue and cause irritation. Some women exposed to high levels of benzene had irregular menstruation and decreased ovarian size. It is unknown if it affects male fertility,” the CDC said.

Kelly Dovos, a cosmetic chemist and adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, says benzene is “definitely dangerous,” but we’re exposed to the chemical every day, and the contamination levels in these cosmetics are increasing by tens of times. said to have a tendency to per million. “It’s a trace contaminant,” Dobos said. “Cosmetics companies have toxicologists on staff. They do extensive research to make sure their products are safe.”

When using aerosol products, use them in a well-ventilated area with windows open.

What other products contain benzene?

Aerosolized versions of conditioners, deodorants, antifungal deodorants, and sunscreens all remembered Over the past two years over possible benzene contamination.

Procter & Gamble last year recalled more than 30 aerosolized hair care products, including dry shampoos and conditioners, warning that they contained high levels of trace benzene. The company also issued a similar recall for more than a dozen aerosol deodorants under the Old Spice and Secret brands.

Homer Thway, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy group, said the propellant supply chain, which is butane or propane fuel in spray cans, must be affected. aerosol product.

“We are seeing more and more cases of these companies starting evaluations and investigations. They will probably see more of these things,” Swei said. “I don’t think this is the end.”

Benzene is carcinogenic, he said, but the duration or level of exposure required to cause these health problems is not known. “It’s difficult to account for all kinds of exposures,” said Swei. “People should avoid using these aerosols until the industry can solve these problems in the supply chain,” he said.

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