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Cancer-causing chemical found in Proactiv, PanOxyl, Target acne creams

A laboratory found dangerously high levels of benzene in many popular benzoyl peroxide acne products.
Cancer-causing chemical found in Proactiv, PanOxyl, Target acne creams
Posted at 8:29 PM, Mar 06, 2024

Acne products from brands like Proactiv, Clinique, Clearasil and Target's Up & Up contain high levels of a chemical that's been linked to cancer, according to a Connecticut laboratory's testing.

In a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Tuesday, the New Haven-based lab, Valisure, said its testing of dozens of benzoyl peroxide acne products uncovered many had high levels of the known human carcinogen, benzene. It's calling on the federal agency to recall any benzoyl peroxide products while regulators investigate.

Benzene is a colorless chemical that is a natural component of gasoline and cigarette smoke. Once a person is exposed to high or extended amounts of it, the chemical can cause their blood cells to not work properly, potentially leading to anemia, tissue damage, leukemia and other serious health issues. 

Though the major sources of the chemical include second-hand smoke and industrial fume inhalation, Valisure researchers said their testing of 66 different benzoyl peroxide products — including over-the-counter and prescription-type washes, gels, creams and lotions — found high levels of benzene in decomposing benzoyl peroxide products, too.

They note this decomposition stems from the "inherent instability" of the acne product's molecule that breaks down into benzene, not from a specific ingredient contamination. This particularly occurs when the benzoyl peroxide products kept in higher temperatures, like a hot car or steamy bathroom.

SEE MORE: The risks of benzene in personal care products

In some products, this temperature instability led to a more than 800 times the federal regulatory limit for benzene — 2 parts per million — in under three weeks. Proactiv's 2.5% benzoyl peroxide cream, for example, contained as much as 1,761 parts per million of benzene, while another from Target showed 1,598 parts per million. Other products the lab identified as containing high levels of benzene included benzoyl peroxide creams from PanOxyl, Walgreens, La Roche-Posay, Equate and Differin.

The lab also believes product packaging could allow the benzene to leak into the air surrounding unopened benzoyl peroxide products, adding to concern over inhalation exposure. 

In a statement to CBS News, an FDA spokesperson said Valisure's data must be verified as "accurate and reproducible before it can be utilized to make regulatory decisions such as recommending product sale suspensions and recalls." 

Meanwhile, Clearasil manufacturer Reckitt told the publication it was "confident that all Clearasil products, when used and stored as directed on their labels, are safe." Other companies involved in the petition did not respond for comment.

This is the latest report to potentially show unhealthy levels of benzene in many Americans' everyday products. As of late, its presence in sunscreens, hand sanitizers, antiperspirants and dry shampoos have led to product recalls from major companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble.


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