Hair spray can be a vital part of your hair care routine, but is your hair spray trying to kill you?
Well, hair spray that comes from an aerosol can might be.
In December 2021, Procter & Gamble Company, the parent company of many popular brands like Pantene, Herbal Essences, and Aussie, recalled over 30 aerosol spray products.
The benzene recall was due to concerns about benzene levels, a chemical compound which is known to cause cancer.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time Procter & Gamble had to recall aerosol products. Less than a month prior in November 2021, they recalled over 18 products because of benzene concerns.
This prompts the following question: if aerosol products are so dangerous, why are they so popular, and how are companies allowed to sell them?
What Exactly Is Benzene?
Benzene is a known carcinogenic chemical. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, a carcinogen is defined as “an agent with the capacity to cause cancer in humans.”
In manufacturing, benzene is ranked as one of the top 20 chemicals for production volume. Benzene is used to make other chemicals that are then used to make synthetic fibers, nylon, resins, and plastics.
Benzene is also used in the production of lubricants, detergents, dyes, drugs, pesticides, and rubber. Benzene is also found naturally in the environment. Circumstances like volcanic eruptions and forest fires are natural sources of benzene. You will also find benzene in cigarette smoke, gasoline, and crude oil.
How You May Be Exposed to Benzene
Populations who are at greatest risk of benzene exposure include individuals who work in industries that either make or use benzene.
Another common and major source of exposure to benzene is tobacco smoke.
Outside, you could be exposed to low levels of benzene from gas stations, vehicle exhaust, tobacco smoke, and industrial emissions.
Indoors, if there’s benzene in the air, there are likely higher levels of it present due to lack of airflow and circulation. Indoor exposure to benzene could be a result of products like glues, detergents, paints, and furniture wax. Of course, you should always avoid hazardous waste sites because they often contain benzene.
What Happens When You Get Benzene Poisoning?
When toxic levels of benzene enter your body the results could be harmful. Benzene causes your cells not to work properly. For example, benzene can affect your bone marrow, causing your body not to produce enough red blood cells. This can, in turn, result in anemia.
Benzene exposure can also harm your immune system by causing you to lose white blood cells and by changing the levels of antibodies in your blood.
What Determines the Severity of Benzene Contamination?
Benzene poisoning isn’t an exact science. Rather, the seriousness of benzene poisoning depends on many factors, including:
- Length of time of exposure
- Amount of exposure
- Route of exposure
- Age of exposed person
- Overall health and preexisting medical conditions of exposed person
If you suspect you may have been exposed to benzene, it’s best to seek medical help immediately.
Symptoms of Benzene Contamination
If you were to breathe in high enough levels of benzene, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms, within minutes or after several hours:
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
You can also be exposed to Benzene through drinking beverages or eating foods that contain high levels of benzene. When you’re exposed via ingestion, the symptoms may include:
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
For both methods of exposure, in severe cases death can occur
Long-Term Health Effects of Benzene Exposure
Cancer as a result of benzene exposure has been documented since the 1920s. The Department of Health and Human Services determined that long-term exposure to high enough levels of benzene in the air can cause a form of blood cancer known as leukemia.
Why Is Benzene in So Many Products?
After all this information and more than a hundred years of documenting cases of the health risks of benzene, why is benzene still found in everyday products?
In cases like the Procter & Gamble recall or a similar Johnson & Johnson recall, benzene isn’t an active ingredient in the products. These companies are not knowingly adding benzene as an ingredient to your hair spray or sunscreen.
Professionals haven’t reached a clear understanding of why benzene is being found in aerosol products, but the belief is that the benzene contamination may be coming from the internal propellants that spray the product from the can.
Since benzene is used in the manufacturing of other chemicals and products, it makes sense that chemical cross-contamination is a risk.
The Benzene Recall List
Some known offenders include the following aerosol products:
- Hair sprays
- Shaving creams
The FDA has taken action to direct manufacturers to test their products for benzene contamination, but is that enough?
Other Risks of Aerosol Products
Aside from the grave health concerns from benzene exposure, there are plenty of other reasons to ditch aerosol products for good.
Environmental Impact of Aerosol Products
Aerosol spray was initially invented in the 1920s. The technology relied on a type of chemical group called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs were proven to cause ozone depletion. As a result, aerosol products with ozone-depleting chemicals have been banned in the United States.
Today, aerosol products rely on propellants like hydrocarbons and compressed gasses, which do not deplete the ozone. The problem is, even though today’s aerosol products no longer use CFCs, they’re still not environmentally friendly.
Today’s aerosol products contain hydrocarbons and compressed gasses that are known for contributing to global warming. Every time you spray an aerosol can, you are increasing your carbon footprint.
Additionally, modern aerosol cans release VOCs into the environment. VOCs are volatile organic compounds, which are emitted into the atmosphere as gasses. When VOCs interact with nitrogen oxides present in the atmosphere, the result is environmental pollution.
VOCs are known to contribute to ground-level ozone, which creates air pollution and asthma-inducing smog.
Hidden Dangers of Aerosol Cans
Have you ever seen that warning on your hair spray or sunscreen that warns of the product being flammable? Aerosol products are considered flammable if they contain any single component that’s considered flammable.
Hydrocarbon propellant is extremely flammable. If sprayed near a fire, hydrocarbon propellant-powered aerosol products can turn into a major fire hazard. In some severe cases of faulty products, aerosol cans have been known to explode.
Another health concern with aerosol products is the possibility that you may inhale particles of the product you spray. These fine particles settle in your lungs or the lungs of your loved ones, and are laced with potentially harmful chemicals.
Cosmetic Alternatives to Aerosol Products
Many people prefer aerosol dispensers because aerosol is a convenient way to apply products. However, the convenience of aerosols does not negate the risks.
Luckily, there are plenty of safe alternatives to aerosol products.
Hand-applied sunscreens are the way to go. Whether you use a cream or a stick alternative, these sunscreens help protect your skin from cancer caused by too much sun while also eliminating the risk of benzene contamination.
Aerosol sunscreens have long been popular because of the perception that they allow for a more even, thorough application. But you can achieve effective coverage by hand as well.
A good rule of thumb when applying SPF to your body is to envision a shot glass worth of sunscreen on your body, and a nickel-sized amount on your face.
Pump hairs pray s an excellent alternative to aerosol hair spray. Aerosol hair sprays produce a fine mist, but once again, such a convenience comes with health and environmental concerns.
Pump hair sprays produce a similar mist to aerosols and typically last longer. This is because pump sprays don’t contain an aerosol propellant, which leaves more room for active ingredients. Pump hair sprays are a better investment, and give you a better bang for your buck! Try Kavella's Finishing Hairspray for non-aerosol alternative.
Dry shampoos help clean your hair and scalp without actually shampooing in the shower. Many dry shampoos come in the form of aerosols, while others come in a powder form.
The powder form is quite easy to apply to controlled sections of your hair, and is better for you and the planet. Try Kavella's Dry Shampoo - a powdered aerosol-free dry shampoo for all hair types, textures and colors.
Instead of aerosol products for adding texture, try a non-aerosol texturizing product to help you add or enhance texture to your hair.
There are plenty of texture sprays or powders that come in a pump or spray without aerosol. You can either apply texturizing products directly to damp hair, directly to the root, or you can apply the product to your hands and tousle through dry hair.
A non-aerosol mousse is another great alternative to hair spray that is being used to enhance volume or define waves or curls. These can be applied directly to the root or from roots to ends before styling.
Household Alternatives to Aerosol Products
Some common aerosol household products you probably have lying around could include clothes starch, disinfectant spray, air fresheners, and other cleaning products.
Clothes Starch and Fabric Protectors
Many companies offer non-aerosol spray starches so you don’t have to use an aerosol product. You can also easily make your own DIY starch at home with the following ingredients:
- Distilled water or tap water
Simply combine 1 ½ tablespoons of cornstarch with 2 cups of water. Stir until the cornstarch is completely dissolved and the mixture becomes a milky color.
Then, you can either add your DIY solution to a reusable spray bottle, or you can sprinkle the mixture on your clothes with your fingers.
Non-aerosol disinfectant sprays are very easy to find. Every brand that has an aerosol version of their disinfect spray or cleaning product usually has a non-aerosol version as well.
DIY Cleaning Solution
For a DIY non-aerosol cleaning solution, try mixing baking soda with distilled white vinegar in a reusable spray bottle at home. This mixture not only cleans, but also deodorizes. It’s a safe recipe to use if you have little ones or pets running around and don’t want to risk contamination.
The vinegar smell dissipates shortly after spraying, but you can always add some drops of essential oil to the mixture.
Instead of using aerosol air fresheners, try going with a spray or making your own. A popular health-conscious method for freshening and deodorizing the air is to use essential oils and a diffuser.
An essential oil diffuser not only helps improve the freshness of the air around you, but it can also have health benefits. For example, peppermint oil is a good diffuser oil if you’re prone to headaches. Lavender oil is a good oil to diffuse if you’re feeling stressed or agitated.
Another Reason to Ditch Aerosol Products
Another reason to ditch aerosol products has to do with the ingredients of the products.
For example, companies who practice clean beauty, have high standards for ingredients, and have made a commitment to transparency are usually more likely to use eco-friendly packaging and procedures.
When you choose a non-aerosol product over an aerosol one, you’re often also choosing a product with overall safer, healthier, and more eco-conscious ingredients.