Best-selling dry shampoos, including Church & Dwight Co. Not Your Mother’s and Batiste, featuring high levels of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical that prompted Unilever to pull its products from shelves earlier this month, according to new independent research.
Valisure, an analytical laboratory based in New Haven, Connecticut, tested 148 batches of 34 brands of spray-dry shampoos and found that 70 percent contained benzene. The chemical can cause certain types of cancer in the blood, such as leukemia.
The company has filed a request with the US Food and Drug Administration to recall products containing the substance.
The results raise concerns that over-the-counter products in U.S. pharmacies and grocery stores may pose previously undetected health risks.
Over the past year, Valisure has found benzene in popular sun sprays, antiperspirants and hand sanitizers. Stores have pulled products from shelves, while regulators and manufacturers are taking a closer look at whether impurities go undetected in the complex supply chain.
Not your mother, the shampoo with the highest levels of benzene
The highest levels of benzene among dry shampoos were found in the popular brand Not Your Mother’s, which touts its “quality, pure ingredients.” Other brands found to have elevated benzene levels including Batiste, Sun Bum and John Paul Mitchell Systems.
Valisure’s request did not include dry shampoos already recalled for high benzene content, such as Dove, Suave and Bed Head, all from Unilever, as well as Procter & Gamble Co’s Pantene and Herbal Essences.
The levels of benzene Valisure found in some of its dry shampoos, used to refresh hair between washes, were significantly higher than any personal care product the lab had previously tested, the study found.
Church & Dwight, Not Your Mother’s, Sun Bum and John Paul Mitchell Systems did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Valisure earns revenue from partnerships it has with companies to verify the quality of certain products, such as its contract with Gojo Industries Inc., maker of Purell hand sanitizer. It also has investors, including Realist Ventures, which is also based in Connecticut.
Best selling shampoos
Batiste, Not your mother’si Dove is the top-selling dry shampoo brand in the US, with Batiste accounting for 44 percent of its $309 million in sales in the year ended July 10 among the top 10 brands, according to IRI, a Chicago-based firm.
Dry shampoo sales were up 22 percent year over year, IRI said.
Church & Dwight CEO Matt Farrell told investors on an Oct. 28 earnings call that the use Baptistee increased by 37 percent in the third quarter compared to a year earlier, with which the company won 46 percent of the market share.
Chief Financial Officer Rick Dierker added: “Batiste is growing like crazy. It’s going fantastic, we can’t meet all the demand, consumption has increased drastically”.
The spray from a can of Not Your Mother’s Beach Babe dry shampoo contained 158 parts per million of benzene, according to Valisure’s findings. In previous studies, the lab found sunscreens with up to 6 parts per million, hand sanitizers with 16 parts per million and antiperspirants with 18.
A can of Batiste Bare Dry Shampoo contained 15 parts per million of benzene in one spray. The Environmental Protection Agency said chronic inhalation of benzene at levels of 0.4 parts per billion over a lifetime could cause one additional cancer per 100,000 people, a measure of risk also used by the FDA.
“Dry shampoo is not a once-and-done product,” said David Light, CEO of Valisure. “Many people use it once a day or several times a week.”
Unilever did not respond to questions about the levels of benzene found in its products. “We saw significant amounts of benzene in Unilever products before they were recalled,” Light said, declining to specify the amounts.
P&G first recalled the dry shampoo in December, pulling versions of it Pantene and Herbal Essences off the shelves. The move comes after P&G trialled its entire aerosol portfolio following the discovery of Valisure’s previous work. No other major consumer goods manufacturer has publicly disclosed similar internal tests.
Benzene present in sunscreens and disinfectants
Valisure has found high levels of benzene in aerosol sunscreens, including product versions Neutrogena from Johnson & Johnson; spray antiperspirants such as Procter & Gamble’s Secret and Old Spice brands; and some hand sanitizers that were introduced to the market at the beginning of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
The supply chains that get your personal care products to consumers are complex efforts that span the globe, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly where toxins are introduced.
The problems potentially come back “from the moment the raw material becomes contaminated and goes through the entire global supply chain, through all the hands it has to touch and all the quality control points that should be there, Luz said. After all that, “it still ends up on the shelf in the hands of customers, in their homes, with alarmingly high levels of pollution. It’s very worrying.”
Some companies pointed out that propellants are a problem. Aerosol personal care products, including dry shampoos, often contain propellants such as propane and butanewhich are petroleum distillates obtained by refining crude oil.
Benzene is a known contaminant of petroleum products. Propane and butane used in personal care products should be purified to be benzene-free. The FDA has confirmed that motor fuels are a potential source of benzene contamination.
On July 29, Edgewell Personal Care Co. recalled its Banana Boat Hair and Scalp Sunscreen due to benzene contamination. The company said the “unexpected levels of benzene were caused by propellant gas spraying the product from the can.”
The FDA has asked companies that manufacture pharmaceutical products with a high risk of benzene contamination, such as sunscreens, to test for the toxin.
Dry shampoo is a cosmetic that is regulated by the FDA, but not as strictly as drugs.
there are no regulations
Although the FDA has not set benzene limits for cosmetics, it says products must not contain “any toxic or harmful substance.” In drug applications, the FDA allows levels of two parts per million for benzene if “use is unavoidable for the manufacture of a drug with a significant therapeutic advance.”
Valisure asked the FDA to clarify that there is no acceptable level of benzene in cosmetics and to develop guidelines for testing benzene in cosmetics.
Valisure’s analysis revealed extreme variations in the aerosol sprayseven from the same can, “suggesting inconsistent product composition and/or aerosolization in some products,” the lab said in the petition.
While dry shampoo Not your mother’s pure freak ccontained 143 parts per million benzeneor in the first spray, the fourth spray contained 93 parts per million. Valisure’s findings, including a list of contaminated dry shampoos, can be found in its petition to the FDA.
The contamination could be even higher than those findings, the expanded study found.
Valisure has been testing for benzene in personal care products for some time, but with its dry shampoo probe, the researchers took a deeper approach.
The lab partnered with Syft Technologies, a company that designs and sells trace gas analysis equipment, to conduct direct air tests that can more accurately capture benzene levels. Syft is headquartered in New Zealand with an office in Pittsburgh.
When Valisure tests a product, it uses a standard procedure that requires placing a sample in a vial. This means that some chemicals can escape before they are measured. Syft uses a method that detects levels of chemicals in the air, including what is sprayed from an aerosol can. Using data from Syft, Valisure determined that it is possible that the actual levels of benzene in spray-dry shampoo may be 10 to 50 times larger than standard tests reveal.
For example, Syft found benzene levels of 1,600 parts per billion, 4,000 times the EPA guideline, in the initial plume after a 10-second spray of Not Your Mother dry shampoo. Long-term exposure showed about 36 parts per billion, with Syft measuring a 550-cubic-foot area for 15 minutes. Using that data, Valisure calculated that the concentration of benzene in Not Your Mother’s could be as high as 340 parts per million, or 170 times the FDA limit for the drug.
Data based on Syft’s findings probably more closely mimic real-world conditions. “This one it is particularly dangerousLight said.