Common acne products contain carcinogen, lab alerts FDA

An independent testing laboratory has filed a petition with the FDA after finding common acne products contain elevated levels of benzene, a carcinogen that's previously been detected in other consumer products such as sunscreens and dry shampoos, according to a March 6 Bloomberg report. 

Valisure, the testing laboratory, filed the petition March 5, asking the FDA to work with manufacturers to recall and suspend sales of common acne products after its testing uncovered a range of benzoyl peroxide acne products with high levels of benzene. The company tested 66 products — ranging from face washes to creams and lotions — and found some had up to 12 times the permitted amount under FDA guidelines. 

Stability testing showed benzene levels reached 1,761 parts per million in Proactive's 2.5% benzoyl peroxide cream; 1,598 parts per million in a Target brand cream; and 401 parts per million in a Clinique brand cream. FDA guidelines allow up to 2 parts per million of benzene.

The FDA and product manufacturers did not immediately respond to Bloomberg's requests for comment. 

Valisure is certified by the International Organization for Standardization, a group that sets testing guidelines for products including drugs, and has previously led high-profile investigations on carcinogens in common drugs and products. In 2020, the FDA pulled the heartburn drug Zantac and generic versions off the market after the lab found its active ingredient could form a probable carcinogen called NDMA. 

In a statement provided to the news outlet, Valisure President David Light said the benzene contamination found in acne products is due to the breakdown of benzoyl peroxide, which can happen when products are exposed to higher temperatures, such as a steamy bathroom. 

"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," Mr. Light said in the statement. 

Health officials have linked exposure to high levels of benzene to leukemia and other health effects. 

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