CVS Pulls Sun-Care Products After Carcinogen Benzene Found


CVS Health Corp. has halted the sale of two sun-care products found to contain the carcinogen benzene a day after Johnson & Johnson issued a voluntary recall of five sunscreen sprays also contaminated with the chemical.

The actions by the two health-care giants came after an independent testing lab first reported finding the cancer-causing chemical in the products to regulators earlier this year. Benzene can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested, and health risks vary depending on level and duration of exposure.

CVS is pausing sales of its CVS Health After Sun Aloe Vera and CVS Health After Sun Aloe Vera Spray products out of an abundance of caution, Michael DeAngelis, a company spokesman, said in an email to Bloomberg on Thursday.

The pharmacy chain is working with its supplier for the products “to take appropriate additional steps,” he said.

J&J recalled all lots of five Neutrogena and Aveeno brand sunscreen sprays after testing found some contained what the company said were low levels of benzene. The company advised consumers to throw the products away. The company said it didn’t expect that benzene exposure from daily use of its sunscreen would lead to adverse health outcomes.

Product-safety lawyers filed a federal class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of people who bought J&J’s recalled sunscreens seeking damages, they said in a statement Thursday.

“It should not have taken the publication of a third party’s tests to bring this critically important information to the public, and J&J’s response so far is not enough,” Andy Birchfield, a product-safety trial lawyer at the Beasley Allen law firm, said in the statement.

‘Abundance of Caution’

J&J said the “health and safety of the people who use our products is our top priority” and pulled them out of “an abundance of caution” following comprehensive tests of its materials and manufacturing.

“While the use of these products would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences, we are asking consumers to stop using them,” J&J said in an email. “We believe this is the right decision to ensure consumers are confident in using sunscreen products.”

The company didn’t comment on the litigation.

Valisure, an independent testing lab in New Haven, Connecticut, said in a filing with the Food and Drug Administration in May that it found some widely used sunscreens and after-sun products contained up to 6 parts per million of benzene. The lab asked that the products be recalled.

The Neutrogena sprays and CVS-brand aloe vera products topped Valisure’s list of products with the highest levels of benzene. Other products that contained low, but still detectable, levels include several of Edgewell Personal Care Co.’s Banana Boat sunscreens, including some for kids, and a few Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. sunscreens and after-sun gels. Valisure did find sun-care products that didn’t test positive for benzene.

“We are confident in the safety and efficacy of our Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens,” Edgewell said in a statement. “Our products are not affected by a recall.”

Fruit of the Earth supplies Walgreens sun-care products and the pharmacy chain directed all questions to them.

“All of our products are safe,” John Dondrea, general counsel at Fruit of the Earth, said in an interview. “We are confident the products don’t contain benzene.”

He declined to comment on whether the company had specifically tested any of its products for benzene.

Benzene is sometimes used as a solvent to manufacture drugs. Sunscreen is considered an over-the-counter drug regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

FDA guidance advises companies to avoid using benzene as a solvent in manufacturing unless “their use is unavoidable in order to produce a drug product with a significant therapeutic advance,” and then the limit is set at 2 parts per million.

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