In March of 2022, we published an article that discussed the dangers of the cancer-causing chemical benzene, which has been found in dozens of brand-name hair products of all kinds.
The article followed the news that Procter & Gamble recalled more than 30 aerosol spray products because of concerns about benzene contamination. A month prior to that (in November 2021), the company recalled at least 18 products because of the same concern.
In that article, we asked why products with benzene are allowed to be sold and unfortunately, we find ourselves still asking that same question after the news of a new round of benzene recalls on aerosol dry shampoos has erupted.
What Is Benzene?
Last year, several other products, including deodorants, hair sprays, and shaving creams, were part of benzene recalls because of reported benzene contamination. This carcinogenic chemical is created from both man-made and natural processes.
The natural processes include forest fires and volcanoes, and man-made processes include the production of cigarettes (and cigarette smoke). It’s also found in gasoline and crude oil.
According to the CDC, benzene is light yellow or colorless and is a liquid at room temperature. It’s highly flammable and has a sweet odor.¹ Benzene is found and used in additional items, such as:
- Chemicals to make nylon, resins, and plastics
- Synthetic fibers
- Dyes and detergents
The CDC also reports that benzene is one of the top 20 chemicals used in the U.S. for production.
Benzene causes cells in the body to malfunction. It can make bone marrow stop producing the appropriate amount of red blood cells, causing a deficiency (anemia). It can also damage the immune system by altering the level of antibodies in the blood and reducing the number of white blood cells in the body.
The Latest Benzene Recall
The latest recall (November 2022) involves 148 batches of products from 34 brands of dry shampoos after almost ¾ of tested products showed quantifiable benzene levels. Products include several dry shampoos from Dove, Suave, TIGI, and other brands.
Three different lots of products from one of the brands were tested and found to have over 100 ppm of benzene in their sprays.
How Are These Products Still Legal?
The FDA has set a limit of two parts per million (ppm) for drugs, but eleven tested samples of these products contained more than ten times that amount.
The “loophole” that allows the products to legally still be sold has to do with the word “drugs.” These hair care products are not drugs, and they don’t contain any active ingredients designed for a therapeutic purpose. So the FDA’s limit of two ppm does not apply, unfortunately opening the door to continued sales.
The FDA has received a citizen petition from Valisure urging an expedited review of the recalls. (Valisure is the company that performed the tests for the presence of benzene.) Normally, the FDA takes about six months to respond to citizen petitions.
Some other dry shampoo products Valisure tested were found to contain ten times the FDA drug limit for benzene, and Valisure also claims to have found the cancer-causing chemical in other types of products, like sunscreen and hand sanitizer.
Signs and Symptoms of Benzene Contamination and Exposure
The list of symptoms related to benzene exposure is lengthy and disturbing. While the CDC states that most people are exposed to the chemical by breathing it in, it’s also possible to ingest it by eating contaminated foods and beverages.
Some of the symptoms of breathing in benzene include:
- Drowsiness and/or dizziness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Irregular heartbeat
In addition, some symptoms of ingesting benzene include:
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Upset stomach
Death can occur if benzene is inhaled or ingested at very high levels, and direct exposure to the lungs, skin, or eyes can cause injury to those tissues.
The long-term effects of benzene exposure are many and can include:
- Excessive bleeding
- Suppressed immune system
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Decrease in ovary size
- Cancer and leukemia
Though it’s not known if benzene causes harm to a developing fetus, animal studies have shown delayed bone formation, low birth weights, and bone marrow damage.
The Best Alternatives to Aerosol Hair Products
With so many environmental and health-related concerns stemming from the use of aerosol products, it’s clear that one of the best alternatives is to use pump hair sprays and dry shampoos that are in powder form instead of aerosol form.
Aerosol Dry Shampoo Alternatives
If you’ve never used a dry shampoo, it really is as it seems: a product that can clean the hair and scalp without requiring a shower or bath. Many of the most popular dry shampoos on shelves are aerosol products because of their ease of application and convenience.
However, the best dry shampoos are those that aren’t aerosol and don’t contain benzene. These are the products that are in powder form and are really easy to apply. They’re also much better for you and the environment.
If you’re looking for the best dry shampoo alternative to the benzene-filled aerosols on store shelves, try Kavella’s Dry Shampoo, which is ideal for all hair textures, colors, and types.
Aerosol Hair Spray Alternatives
Pump hair sprays are able to deliver a fine mist that is similar to those of aerosols, and they tend to last longer, too. This is due to the fact that while aerosol hair sprays contain a lot of propellant, pump sprays do not, which allows for more room for the active ingredients in the product.
For an incredible non-aerosol hair spray that delivers all-day control and a soft hold without the aerosol (and without the benzene), try Kavella’s Buildable Hairspray.
Avoiding Benzene Recall List Products and Aerosols
Even if an aerosol product does not contain high levels of benzene, the aerosol propellant chemicals are still harmful to you and to the environment. When you choose non-aerosol products, you’re choosing healthier products all around!