Some batches of antiperspirant and deodorant sprays from brands including Old Spice, Secret, Equate, Suave, Tag, Sure, Right Guard and Brut contain unsafe levels of benzene, a carcinogen, according to a report from early November by independent pharmaceutical testing company Valisure. In response, Procter & Gamble is recalling some lots of Old Spice and Secret aerosol sprays.
Exposure to benzene over a long period can cause problems with the immune system, bone marrow and blood, including cancer in the blood, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the recall notice published Tuesday by the US Food and Drug Administration, the Secret and Old Spice sprays being recalled are used as hygiene or antiperspirant products and have expiration dates through Sept. 23. Details about the recalled products, including pictures of the spray bottles, can be found on Secret's website as well as the Old Spice website. If you own one of the products being recalled, you should stop using it and "appropriately" dispose of it. Other Old Spice or Secret products not included in the recall can continue to be used, Procter & Gamble said. No adverse events have been reported over the recalled products.
Benzene is widely used in the US, according to the CDC. It's used to make some types of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents and more. However, given that it's a known carcinogen, the US Food and Drug Administration says the chemical shouldn't be used in drug products (according to Valisure, antiperspirants are typically regulated as drug products, while deodorants are regulated as cosmetic products). If benzene use is "unavoidable in order to produce a drug product," levels should be kept to 2 parts per million. Benzene isn't needed to make sunscreen or antiperspirant and deodorant sprays.
In a citizen petition written Nov. 3, Valisure asked the FDA to recall 38 batches of body sprays. The company also asked the FDA to issue guidance for benzene in aerosol body spray products, review current guidance for body spray products and address similar requests. According to the CDC, benzene evaporates into the air very quickly.
One hundred and eight batches of products from 30 different brands were tested for benzene, per Valisure's report, and 54% of the batches contained at least some of the chemical. A batch of Old Spice's Pure Sport antiperspirant contained the most benzene, at 17.7 parts per million.
Brands of antiperspirants and deodorants that were found to contain 2 parts per million of benzene or more can be found in table 2 in Valisure's petition to the FDA. Antiperspirants and deodorants that were found to have between 0.1 ppm and 2 ppm of benzene can be found in table 3. Most products on the list are for underarm use, but a couple are marketed as body sprays or vaginal sprays.
If you see your own deodorant or antiperspirant on the list, check the lot number on your product to see if it was tested and whether it's contaminated. Valisure is asking the FDA to recall products in tables 2 and 3, but the agency hasn't listed any company recalls at this time. When products are recalled by a company, customers are typically asked to dispose of contaminated products. For aerosol cans, you may need to check your local guidelines for disposal information.
Last May, Valisure tested sunscreen from brands including Neutrogena and found some batches also contained unsafe amounts of benzene. In response, Johnson & Johnson announced on July 14 that it was voluntarily recalling select Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol spray sunscreens "out of an abundance of caution." Coppertone, owned by Beiersdorf, issued a similar recall on Sept. 30 for certain aerosol spray sunscreens.
"When we identify drug quality lapses that pose potential risks for patients, we make every effort to understand the issues and provide our best recommendation to the public as quickly and accurately as possible," the FDA said in a statement about Valisure's petition. "We will continue to investigate and work to ensure these types of impurities do not exceed acceptable limits."
High Ridge Brands (Brut, Sure), My Products USA (Tag), Thriving Brands (Right Guard), Unilever (Suave) and Walmart (Equate) didn't respond to requests for comment.