Cancer Concerns Prompt Antiperspirant Spray Recall: Here's What You Need to Know Now
The following is an important safety alert for all members of the excessive sweating community, especially because most of us use an antiperspirant of some sort. But heads up - this antiperspirant-cancer concern is not related to aluminum but rather BENZENE which was recently detected by an independent lab in numerous batches of body sprays. (For information about how theories connecting cancer to aluminum salts in antiperspirants have very little supporting evidence, read this article and visit our page on the topic.)
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High levels of benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer, was found in antiperspirant, deodorant and body aerosol sprays (59 batches across 20 brands), according to a petition filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by Valisure, a company that conducts tests of common consumer health products.
In their independent study, researchers from Valisure found benzene in 59 out of 108 products tested - including underarm, body, jock, groin, and foot sprays. Indeed, 54% of the samples studied by Valisure contained detectable benzene and some contained up to nine times the conditionally restricted FDA concentration limit of 2 parts per million (ppm). Valisure is asking the FDA to recall the contaminated batches and also requesting the FDA better define limits for benzene contamination in drug and cosmetic products. Wondering if your personal care aerosol sprays are on the list? Check out the names of impacted products starting on page 12 of Valisure’s petition.
As mentioned above, the FDA has documented that benzene should not be used in medications or antiperspirant/hygiene/body products beyond a conditionally permitted concentration of 2 parts per million (ppm).
In response, Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G) has voluntarily pulled some of its antiperspirant, deodorant and body sprays off store shelves. These include 17 different types of Old Spice and Secret items. A full list of the recalled P&G products can be found here. The recall applies to lots with expiration dates through September 2023. More information is available on Procter & Gamble's website.
Procter & Gamble representatives have noted that:
- The affected products likely would not expose people to levels of benzene high enough to cause health issues
- The company has not received reports of adverse events
- The recall was out of "an abundance of caution"
Anyone who purchased affected P&G products (which were sold in stores across the United States and online) should throw them away. Refunds are available and customers can fill out online forms for Old Spice or for Secret products, or contact a hotline at 888-339-7689 Monday through Friday from 9am to 6pm ET.
While P&G has issued this voluntary recall, the other brands mentioned in Valisure’s petition have not. These include batches of the following sprays, in which Valisure identified benzene levels at or above 2 parts per million (at or more than the FDA’s “ok” amount):
- Right Guard
Other batches of spray products tested by Valisure had benzene levels at or up to 2 parts per million (within the FDA’s currently allowable range), including products from:
- Summer's Eve
- Right Guard
- Power Stick
- Soft & Dri
- Victoria's Secret
Do You Use Foot or Jock Sprays? Benzene Was In Them, Too.
In studies, benzene was also found in foot and jock itch sprays. The company Bayer voluntarily recalled batches of its Lotrimin and Tinactin products because of benzene detected in some samples.
Bayer representatives said: The “decision to voluntarily recall these products was a precautionary measure” and that “the levels detected were not expected to cause adverse health consequences in consumers.”
The Bayer aerosol spray can products included in the recall are unexpired Lotrimin and Tinactin sprays with lot numbers starting with TN, CV, or NAA that were distributed for consumer shopping between September 2018 and September 2021. For more information, visit: https://livewell.bayer.com/document/2011.
Additionally, two kinds of Odor Eaters sprays (Odor Eaters Spray Powder and Odor Eaters Stink Stoppers) are being recalled after testing revealed benzene. The recalled products can be identified by lot numbers and expiration dates found on the bottom of the cans and include:
- Odor Eaters Spray Powder, 4-ounce cans, lot Nos. D19K22 and D19K23, expiration 10/21; D19M24, D19M25, D19M26 and D19M27, expiration 12/21; D20C01, D20C02, D20C03 and D20C04, expiration 3/22; D20F08 and D20F09, expiration 6/22; D20H10 and D20H11, expiration 08/22; D20K13 and D20K14, expiration 10/22; D21B01, expiration 02/23; D21D03, expiration 04/23; D21E04 and D21F04, expiration 05/23; D21G01 and D21G02, expiration date 07/23; and D21H03, D21H04 and D21H05, expiration 0823.
- Odor Eaters Spray Powder, 5.3-ounce cans, lot Nos. D19M27, D19M28, D19M29 and D19M30, expiration 12/21; D20E05, D20E06 and D20E07, expiration 5/22; D20M15 and D20M16, expiration 12/22; and D21B02, expiration 02/23
- Odor Eaters Stink Stoppers Spray, 4-ounce cans, lot Nos. 041901, 041902, 041903, 041904, 041905 and 051901, no expiration date.
Why is Benzene Showing Up in Personal Care Sprays?
It should be noted that benzene is not thought to be intentionally added to body products but can show up anyway - usually at very low levels.
In the testing by Valisure, levels of benzene varied greatly from batch to batch, even within a single brand. None of the products list benzene as an ingredient. One way the chemical could have been introduced is via an error in the manufacturing process or it could have come from propellants that spray the product out of the can. In past similar instances, propellants have been a source of this type of contamination. Or, impurities may be present in the manufacturing supply chain (and you know how wonky supply chains have been recently).
"We don't know the source of the benzene, but it could relate to how a particular ingredient was manufactured, where it was sourced, or how it moved through the supply chain," wrote Tod Cooperman, M.D. in a review of the Valisure report for ConsumberLab.com. "It is more likely that the benzene arose from other ingredients in the products, such as butane, isobutane, or propane, which are propellants in sprays."
Benzene is known to cause cancer in humans according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and other regulatory agencies. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines benzene as a carcinogen and lists “inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact” as exposure routes. Long-term exposure (like, more than a year) to benzene is linked with cancers such as leukemia; a decrease in red blood cells, which may lead to anemia; irregular menstrual periods; and a decrease in the size of the ovaries, according to the CDC.
In support of P&G’s voluntary recall, David Light, the founder and CEO of Valisure, said:
"We at Valisure applaud Procter & Gamble for its quick attention to and action on our findings published in our FDA Citizen Petition on benzene contamination in body sprays. These product contamination issues might be attributed mainly to quality problems starting at the raw materials. These and other issues identified by Valisure strongly underscore the importance of independent testing and its need to be better integrated into an increasingly complex and vulnerable global supply chain. We hope regulators and manufacturers continue to take further action on body sprays and other products affected by carcinogenic contamination so that consumers do not need to worry about exposure to unnecessary risk."
What’s a Hyperhidrosis Sufferer To Do?
If you have any of these spray products at home, stop using them but don’t panic. Experts say it's unlikely that spraying one can of antiperspirant etc. that contains minimal amounts of benzene on your body will be harmful. Daily exposure to benzene in the affected batches at the levels detected are not expected to cause adverse health consequences based on cancer risk assessments by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the experts say.
Keep in mind, also, that benzene contamination often happens on a batch basis, so it's hard to know if your favorite product is contaminated, or not. It’s possible that one can of spray antiperspirant, antifungal, or body “freshener” contained small amounts of benzene, but the next didn't.
Still concerned? Based on our research, propellants used in sprays seem particularly at risk for benzene contamination so you might consider using stick or roll-on antiperspirant instead of sprays.
Interestingly, while the tests for benzene mentioned here were on North American batches of products, we know that spray antiperspirants, for example, are much more commonly used in Europe and Latin America (with 60% of market share) than in the U.S. (2-5% of market share). Will concerns over benzene contamination impact this at all? Time will tell.
As 2021 comes to a close, we wish warm, bright and safe holidays to everyone who celebrates around the world at this time. May the year to come bring peace, unity, joy, and health to us all.
If the spirit of giving moves you, please make a donation to the International Hyperhidrosis Society as a gift to yourself, your loved ones and a better future for everyone and anyone who experiences the hardships caused by excessive sweating.
"In our perfect ways. In the ways we are beautiful. In the ways we are human. We are here. Happy New Year’s. Let’s make it ours." ― Beyoncé