Dove and other Unilever dry shampoos recalled for cancer risk

Unilever is recalling well-known brands of aerosol dry shampoos, including Dove, after they were found to be contaminated with the cancer-causing chemical benzene.

The voluntary recall also affects brands like Nexxus, Suave, Tresemm√© and Tigi that make Rockaholic and Bed Head dry shampoos, according to a notice posted to the Food and Drug Administration website on Friday. Unilever’s recall affects products manufactured before October 2021.

The move again raises questions about the safety of aerosols in personal care products.

Dry shampoos that may contain "elevated levels" of the carcinogenic benzene

Dry shampoos, which may contain “elevated levels” of the cancer-causing benzene

(FDA)

In the past year and a half, a number of aerosol sunscreens such as Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena, Edgewell Personal Care Co.’s Banana Boat, and Beiersdorf’s Coppertone have been pulled from shelves, as well as spray-on antiperspirants from Procter & Gamble Co.’s Secret and Old Spice and Unilever’s Suave.

The recalls were prompted by discoveries of benzene in such products by an analytical lab called Valisure, based in New Haven, Connecticut, beginning in May 2021.

This isn’t the first time spray-on dry shampoo has been identified as a problem.

P&G has tested its entire portfolio of aerosol products based on Valisure’s findings. As a result, the company recalled its Pantene and Herbal Essences dry shampoos in December, alleging benzene contamination.

“Unfortunately, given what we’ve seen, it makes sense that other consumer product categories, such as aerosol dry shampoos, could be heavily impacted by benzene contamination, and we’re actively investigating this area,” said Valisure Chief Executive David Light.

The problem with aerosols appears to stem largely from the propellants used to spray the personal care products from the cans. Unilever said that was the case with its dry shampoo recall.

The company did not disclose the amount of benzene found in the products and said it was recalling them as a precaution. Unilever said it had received no reports of “adverse events” related to the products.

The FDA said that “daily exposure to benzene in the recalled products at the levels found in testing will have no adverse health consequences.” However, the agency also said that exposure to benzene can lead to leukemia and other blood cancers.

Spray-on personal care products such as dry shampoos often contain propellants such as propane and butane, which are petroleum distillates made by refining crude oil. Benzene is a known contaminant of petroleum products. The FDA has confirmed that propellants are a potential source of benzene contamination.

Although the FDA hasn’t set benzene limits for cosmetics like dry shampoo, it says the products shouldn’t contain “toxic or harmful substances.”

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