Benzenes in skincare products- what's the truth?

aerosoized sunscreen benzene sunscreen safety unilever valisure Nov 14, 2022

If you’ve read the news recently, you may have heard about another study finding benzene in common skin care products. This most recent internal report by Unilever found higher than normal levels of benzene in their dry shampoo products. This study follows a report by Valisure, an independent, for profit laboratory, in spring of 2021 showing high benzene levels in 78 out of 300 commercially-available sunscreens and after-sun products.

Since then, several manufacturers have undertaken testing of their own products and confirmed levels of benzene, sometimes at even higher levels than the original Valisure study.

So let’s take a step back, and a deep breath...and break this down.

What even is benzene?   

Benzene is a naturally-occurring chemical found in crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. It is also a carcinogen, meaning it has been shown to cause cancers like leukemia. Benzene is NOT an ingredient in any sunscreens or skin care products however so its discovery in common skin care products is problematic. You can't just look at the label to see if you skincare products contains benzene because it's not suppose to be there in the first place!

While it is unclear how benzene got into these products, it is most likely contamination occurring during the manufacturing process. The manufacturing process is complex and involves many steps, many performed in foreign countries and where oversight is not always easy. Most of the products that are being recalled and found to be contaminated tend to be (although not ALWAYS) aerosolized products. Some postulate that the error may lie with the propellant as the source.

While we are exposed to benzene on a daily basis from car exhaust, industrial pollutants, and tobacco smoke, how and if we absorb benzene via the skin is unknown but these reports are nonetheless alarming.


Dermatologists and leading dermatology groups continue to encourage patients and the community to wear sunscreen daily, along with other sun protective measures (hats, pants, sleeves). We know 100% that ultraviolet radiation from the sun causes cancers! The benzene story has yet to unfold completely and it is unclear if benzene is absorbed via the blood after skin care use. *One recent report showed no benzene absorption via the bloodstream after sunscreen use, but the methodology of this study has been questioned. 

If you have concerns about the products you are using, check out the websites provided by Valisure and Unilver below. You may also want to avoid aerosolized personal care products like anti-perspirants, dry shampoo, and spray sunscreens as these were the products most commonly contaminated.

More research is needed to better understand if and how benzene is absorbed via the skin and what levels are considered safe. As this story unfolds, additional products may be recalled with additional testing. I hope that personal care manufacturers take these reports seriously and do a thorough investigation of their manufacturing processes as Unilever most recently as done.

THE SKIN REAL will of course keep you posted on all the latest science!


Benzene-FREE products tested by Valisure



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