Daily Vanity Logo

Last year, my skin was breaking out more than usual and nothing was working, so I tried a dermatologist-recommended acne foaming wash with 10% benzoyl peroxide which has also made countless appearances on TikTok.

This coveted and highly raved acne cleanser worked incredibly well for me and I literally just used it this morning, but now I may have to swear off it forever…

In a recent and concerning discovery, a new study has revealed that some widely used acne products with benzoyl peroxide may form high levels of benzene, a chemical linked to cancer.

This comes after similar findings in other consumer products like sunscreens, hand sanitisers, and dry shampoos.

Is it fearmongering or should we be concerned about the acne products in our vanity? If you’ve been slathering on products with benzoyl peroxide to your faces like me, read on to see if continuing is a risk worth taking.

Popular Acne Treatments Under Fire for Potential Cancer Link

acne benzoyl peroxide products, benzene risk

Credit: Valisure, Bloomberg

Independent U.S. testing laboratory Valisure LLC stated, in a petition filed with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that acne products from brands like Proactiv, Estee Lauder’s Clinique, Target Corp.’s Up & Up, and Reckitt Benckiser-owned Clearasil contain elevated levels of the carcinogen.

Expectedly, this sparked calls for an official investigation and potential recall of the affected acne products, all of which have the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide.

For the uninitiated, benzene is a natural component of gasoline and tobacco smoke and high amounts of it can cause conditions like leukemia based on research by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over the past three years, it’s been discovered in popular consumer goods, raising concerns about product safety and the effectiveness of FDA regulations. Major companies like Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble have been forced to recall products containing this hidden danger.

@abcworldnews

A new #report links a possible carcinogen to several popular skin creams. But consumer groups and companies say the products are safe. David Muir reports. #WorldNewsTonight #DavidMuir #News #skincare

♬ original sound – ABC World News Tonight

Valisure, based in New Haven, Connecticut, isn’t new to uncovering product safety issues and has emerged as a consumer watchdog.

The laboratory has established itself as a gatekeeper for consumers by conducting product research and partnering with major healthcare systems like Kaiser Permanente and the US Department of Defense to test drugs used by their members and identify substandard treatments.

In response to Valisure’s petition, the FDA stated that it would verify the accuracy of the data before taking action.

Jeremy Kahn, a spokesperson for the FDA, emphasised that the agency would continue to update the public regarding benzene in drug products as necessary. He reiterated that companies are obligated to ensure the safety of their products.

Related read: Woman Circles Husband’s Moles Before He Went to the Doctor’s & Here’s What He Came Back With

The “Truth” Uncovered by Valisure?

acne benzoyl peroxide products, benzene risk

Credit: Valisure

Valisure conducted acne research by testing 66 benzoyl peroxide products, including creams, lotions, gels, and washes available over the counter or via prescription.

While FDA guidelines permit up to two parts per million of benzene, Valisure reported levels up to nine times higher in some treatments.

These levels increased significantly during stability testing at higher temperatures, simulating potential breakdown in storage conditions like a steamy bathroom. So you might want to rethink leaving your acne products in cars, the kitchen, bathrooms, or anywhere that can induce incredibly high temperatures.

@bloombergbusiness

Now that #benzene has been found in #acne treatments, is my cream safe? Bloomberg’s Anna Edney breaks down the findings. #chemicals #valisure #fda #regulation #skincare

♬ original sound – Bloomberg Business

David Light, President of Valisure, highlighted that benzoyl peroxide contamination occurs due to its breakdown and the formation of benzene.

“The benzene we found in sunscreens and other consumer products were impurities that came from contaminated ingredients; however, the benzene in benzoyl peroxide products is coming from the benzoyl peroxide itself,” David revealed.

During Valisure’s stability testing, Proactiv’s 2.5% benzoyl peroxide cream, made by Taro Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., contained up to 1,761 parts per million of benzene.

Similarly, a cream from Target reached 1,598 parts per million, and a treatment from Estee Lauder Cos.’s Clinique had 401 parts per million.

While a 10% benzoyl peroxide cream from Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc’s Clearasil initially met the FDA limit, it rose to 308 parts per million of benzene after exposure to high temperatures for over two weeks.

@phinskin

🚨Are you still using benzoyl peroxide to treat your acne?…Recent studies have found alarming levels of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, in products with benzoyl peroxide! 😱 #acnetok #skincarenews #benzene #cancerchemical #dermatology #benzoylperoxide #acnetreatment #bpo #dermatologytimes #dermpa #benzenecancer #acnetips #carcinogen #fda #phin #phinskin #skintok #acnecommunity

♬ sonido original – Britney Spears 💋✨💅🏼

What’s worse, acne products with benzoyl peroxide can even affect the air you breathe in!

Valisure’s investigation found that even an unopened Proactiv product discharged high levels of benzene when exposed to 40 degrees Celsius (comparable to the heat of a hot shower) for nearly 17 hours.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, chronic inhalation of benzene at levels of 0.4 parts per billion throughout a lifetime could lead to an additional cancer case per 100,000 individuals, a risk measure also employed by the FDA.

How the Brands Responded

In a statement, Reckitt said that they are “confident that all Clearasil products, when used and stored as directed on their labels, are safe”. Although the company assures that the safety and quality of products are their top priority, they did not react to whether they had tested their acne cream for benzene.

Meanwhile, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. is reviewing Valisure’s petition and will work with their suppliers to follow FDA regulations and guidelines for Walgreens branded products.

Taro Pharmaceuticals and Estee Lauder representatives did not provide comments upon request, while Target declined to issue a statement.

Following the news, Reckitt’s shares declined by 2% and Unilever’s by 0.4% in London, with Estee Lauder dropping 1.3% and Taro tumbling 2.4% at the close in New York.

Related read: Daiso Beauty Product Found to Contain Cancer-causing Ingredients, Singapore Stores Have Taken It Off Shelves

What Does This Mean for the Skincare Industry?

According to SingHealth, acne is the most common skin problem among adolescents and affects up to 88% of them in Singapore (half of which have moderate or severe acne).

Even though acne commonly occurs in teenagers, it can persist or pop up for the first time in adulthood as well.

As for the U.S., the American Academy of Dermatology reported that acne affects as many as 50 million people each year.

In an international Asia-Pacific Anti-Acne Cosmetics market report on Data Bridge Market Research (DBMR), the market is expected to grow in the forecast period of 2021 to 2028. It’s anticipated to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.5% during this period, with the potential to reach USD 2,808.49 million by 2028, up from USD 1,263.20 million in 2020.

@anuhstayshuhk

My derm saved me w this product and now its recalled please tell me what can I use now #hs #hidradenitissuppurativa #cysticacne

♬ BAILEYS SOUND – Me!

However, with news of a cancer-causing chemical that may be linked to many acne products, this growth rate may very well be stunted, especially when the AAD guidelines name benzoyl peroxide as one of its top recommendations for treating acne topically.

Brands may also be forced to remove any of their products containing benzoyl peroxide off the shelves regardless if they’ve done tests or prove to be safe.

In 2022, after Valisure’s previous benzene discoveries, the FDA cautioned companies to evaluate the risk of benzene formation in their products. The agency does not routinely test the products it regulates.

US Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, expressed: “The discovery made by Valisure regarding benzoyl peroxide acne treatment products is deeply troubling and gives renewed importance to the need to empower the FDA to immediately act once we are made aware of the dangers of prescription or over-the-counter drugs.”.

“Benzoyl peroxide products saturate the current market and millions of consumers are unknowingly using a product that increases their exposure to life-threatening carcinogens,” she added.

The Internet’s Reaction: What Are Experts Saying?

First, don’t panic! The widespread coverage by media on this benzene topic is actually rather misleading and not as scary as it’s being portrayed.

Chem PhD and cosmetic chemist Dr Michelle Wong, who also covered the benzene in sunscreen issue back in 2022, went on TikTok to explain and impart her expert knowledge on the matter.

@labmuffinbeautyscience

#stitch with @banuskin | acne resources The news about benzene in benzoyl peroxide acne products isn’t actually that scary – it’s just framed in a really misleading way IMO #benzene #benzoylperoxide #acnetreatment #acneskin #mythbusting #benzenerecall #dermtok #dermtips #breakingnews #acne

♬ original sound – Lab Muffin Beauty Science

Dr Michelle felt that Valisure’s tests were “super questionable” — so much so that toxicologists said the company scared people unnecessarily.

One of Valisure’s tests was based on the conditions of leaving your “benzoyl peroxide in the car and the sun doesn’t set for 18 days during a heat wave”.

Many netizens have voiced out how unrealistic the tests were which doesn’t really help with proving the safety of products with benzoyl peroxide.

Plus, she looked into the papers cited by Valisure and found that there were some discrepancies or that the data didn’t align and support their claims.

@labmuffinbeautyscience

How much benzene is in benzoyl peroxide acne products at normal temperatures, according to the Valisure report? Not enough to freak out about IMO #benzoylperoxide #skincareingredients #benzene #acnetreatment #skintok #nontoxic

♬ original sound – Lab Muffin Beauty Science

In another TikTok video, she said that “it’s less scary than some people are making it sound” as benzene is all around us in petrol, paints, furniture, and natural gas.

Here’s the kicker — we breathe in benzene all the time when we cook, fill up our car, or simply when we’re just breathing at home. Even so, Dr Michelle noted that the vast majority of us don’t end up with benzene-related cancers.

“Obviously, reducing benzene is a good idea. I’m guessing there might be some recalls soon but there is really no need to freak out. Benzoyl peroxide has been used for acne for 60 years and there’s no recorded increased cancer in people who use it,” Dr Michelle assured.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Dr. Muneeb Shah (@doctorly)

Dr Muneeb Shah, dermatologist and founder of Remedy Science®, has posted a summary with regards to the issue on Instagram.

He mentioned how Valisure was the same lab that came under scrutiny by the FDA for their testing practices last year during the “benzene in sunscreen saga”.

At the time, he questioned the lab’s motives and shared that they profit from testing products for “safety” and contaminants.

Related read: These 3 Banned Products Containing Steroids and Weight Loss Medicine Caused Serious Health Issues for Consumers

What Should We Do Next?

First and foremost, since we’re still awaiting news and final reports from the FDA, it’s crucial that we keep ourselves updated on the issue at hand by turning on notifications from relevant and official accounts or researching about it from time to time.

If you tend to err on the side of caution like Dr Shah, cease using your benzoyl peroxide acne products for now especially if it’s on the list of affected products. You can never be too safe!

In the meantime, switch to a different ingredient to treat acne like sulfur, salicylic acid, and adapalene.

Next, if you choose to continue using benzoyl peroxide products, Dr Shah recommends storing them in a cool place to avoid excessive heat exposure. Maybe it’s time to invest in a skincare fridge?

For those of us residing in tropical countries, we’d urge you to stop using these products first as we can’t be too sure how hot our bathrooms can get on our hottest days.

“If you’ve already been using it for a while, no need to panic. What’s done is done and benzoyl peroxide use has still never been linked to cancer in humans,” he added.

See the list of affected products here, as reported by Dermatology Times.

Other than that, the rule of thumb is to always stay vigilant and be aware of what you’re consuming or putting onto your face.

After all, we only have one face and body so let’s take real good care of it — it’s really not a time (or ever, really) to be “YOLO” about it!

Related read: Has Retinol Been Banned in Europe? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Featured image credit: @labmuffinbeautyscience/TikTok, @phinskin/TikTok, @sweetskinbyari/TikTok

Loading form!