WASHINGTON D.C.: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said it is investigating how benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, made its way into sunscreen products recalled recently by Johnson & Johnson.
The company voluntarily pulled five Neutrogena and Aveeno brand products off market shelves after internal testing showed some of the sunscreen products contained low levels of benzene, Reuters reported.
"The root cause of the benzene found in recalled sunscreen products is the focus of ongoing investigations," FDA spokesperson Jeremy Kahn said.
"We will continue to monitor sunscreen manufacturing and marketing to help ensure the availability of safe sunscreens for U.S. consumers," he added.
Johnson & Johnson tested its sunscreen products after online pharmacy Valisure, which checks products for contaminants, detected benzene in dozens of sunscreens, including those made by Johnson & Johnson and CVS pharmacies, and reported its findings to the FDA in May.
Following the Valisure report, CVS also stopped sales of two of its sunburn healing products.
In an interview, Valisure chief executive David Light said he expects the benzene to be traced to contaminated raw materials.
"There's probably the most evidence for raw material contamination," he remarked.
Benzene, which is used frequently in manufacturing to make other chemicals, is not a byproduct of sunscreen filters, or materials or chemicals used in sunscreens, said Dr. Adam Friedman, a professor and chair of dermatology at George Washington University School of Medicine, as quoted by Reuters.
Dr. Joe Schwarcz, a chemistry professor and director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal, said in an email that "the risk is minimal because the dose of benzene is too small" in the sunscreen products, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, the FDA has asked parents to continue to use broad spectrum sunscreens with SPF 15 or higher, given their recognized health benefits.