The Washington Post spoke to aerosol and cosmetics experts about the recall and the health risks associated with continued exposure to benzene. Here is what they said.
Which dry shampoos are being recalled by Unilever?
Unilever has issued a voluntary recall for aerosol dry shampoos produced before October 2021 under the Bed Head, Dove, Nexxus, Suave, Rockaholic and TRESemme brands in the United States. The company said in a statement that it was not aware of any “adverse events” related to the recalled products and that an “independent health risk assessment” found that daily exposure to the benzene in the recalled products is not expected to cause health concerns. problems.
“Unilever US is recalling these products out of an abundance of caution,” the statement said. “Consumers should stop using the affected aerosol dry shampoos.”
The company offers refunds for specific products, which can be found here.
Benzene is a colorless or light yellow liquid that smells sweet and is highly flammable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency says it is one of the top 20 chemicals used in the United States. It is a “building block” for 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, nylon, and synthetic fibers, as well as some lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.
Experts say we are daily exposed to benzene in the air we breathe, especially when filling up our vehicles at the gas station. Benzene is also present in some cigarettes, detergents, glues and paints.
How does benzene end up in your dry shampoo?
Unilever said the propellant in the dry shampoo spray cans was the source of the benzene and it is working with suppliers to fix the problem.
Chris Cappa, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, Davis, said butane, a petroleum product, is a common propellant in aerosol cans. If the butane refining process is “not very good”, you may end up with gas that contains other components of crude oil, such as benzene. “This gas is the most likely source of this benzene,” Cappa said.
“If you want to limit potential exposure to substances like benzene from contaminated spray cans, you can make different choices about the products you use,” he said.
Cappa said he was less concerned about using a spray can of sunscreen outdoors versus a dry spray shampoo indoors, because the benzene will dissolve into the larger atmosphere and will limit the risk of exposure to a high level of benzene.
Marisa Plescia, a Minneapolis-based cosmetic chemist, said dry shampoos are “really basic” products, with a combination of powdered starches, silica and fragrance to soak up the oil in your hair. No company intentionally puts benzene in its products. “It’s contamination,” Plescia said.
Is benzene harmful to humans?
Breathing, digesting or absorbing benzene over long periods of time can lead to serious health problems, including cancers such as leukemia and other blood disorders, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Benzene can slow down the amount of red blood cells produced by the bone marrow, leading to anemia, according to the CDC. It can also damage the body’s immune system by altering blood levels of antibodies. People who breathe in high levels of benzene may become drowsy, dizzy, and confused, and experience headaches, irregular heartbeats, and tremors.
High levels of benzene can cause vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and seizures. Direct exposure to benzene of the eyes, skin, or lungs may damage tissue and cause irritation. Some women exposed to high levels of benzene had irregular periods and a decrease in the size of their ovaries. “It is not known whether exposure to benzene affects fetal development in pregnant women or fertility in men,” the CDC says.
Kelly Dobos, cosmetic chemist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, said benzene is “definitely dangerous” but we are exposed to the chemical every day and contamination levels in these cosmetics tend to be in the tens of parts per million. “It’s a trace contaminant,” Dobos said. “Cosmetic companies have toxicologists on staff. They do extensive research to make sure their products are safe.
If you’re going to use an aerosol product, Dobos said, do so in a well-ventilated area with an open window.
What other products contain benzene?
Aerosol versions of conditioners, deodorants, antifungal deodorants and sunscreens have all been recalled in the past two years due to possible benzene contamination.
Last year, Procter & Gamble recalled more than 30 aerosol hair care products, including dry shampoos and conditioners, warning they contain high levels of trace amounts of benzene. The company also issued a similar recall of more than a dozen Old Spice and Secret brand spray deodorants.
Homer Swei, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, said the supply chain for propellants, butane or propane fuel for spray cans, must be affected to have these high levels of benzene in each of the aerosol products.
“You see more and more of these companies starting to assess and investigate. They’re probably going to 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. Benzene comes from multiple sources, so it’s hard to “count all these different types of exposure,” Swei said. People should “avoid using these aerosols until industry can address these issues in the supply chain,” he said.
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