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The link between dry shampoos and cancer, explained

Top-selling dry shampoos, including Not Your Mother’s and Church & Dwight Co.’s Batiste, contain high levels of benzene, the cancer-causing a chemical that led Unilever to snatch your product from the shelves in October, according to a new independent study.

Valisure, an analytical laboratory based in New Haven, Connecticut, tested 148 batches of 34 brands of spray dry shampoo and found that 70% contained benzene. The chemical can cause certain blood cancers, such as leukemia. The company filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday seeking a recall of products containing the substance.

The findings add to concerns that products sold over the counter in pharmacies and grocery stores across the United States could pose previously undetected health risks. Over the past year, Valisure has found benzene in popular sunscreens, antiperspirants and hand sanitizers. Stores have pulled products from shelves, while regulators and manufacturers are taking a closer look at whether impurities are going unnoticed in a complex supply chain.

The highest benzene levels among dry shampoos have been found in a popular brand called Not Your Mother’s, which touts its “clean, quality ingredients.” Other brands that had bred benzene included Batiste, Sun Bum and John Paul Mitchell Systems.

Valisure’s petition did not include previously recalled dry shampoos for high benzene, such as Dove, Suave and Bed Head, all from Unilever, as well as Pantene and Herbal Essences from Procter & Gamble Co. The benzene levels found by Valisure in some of the dry shampoos – used to refresh hair between washes – are significantly higher than any personal care products the lab has tested before, the study showed.

When asked if Batiste had been tested for benzene, a Church & Dwight spokesperson said the company had previously confirmed with its ingredient suppliers that their products did not contain the chemical and said that she would assess Valisure’s petition. Not Your Mother’s, Sun Bum and John Paul Mitchell Systems did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Valisure generates revenue through partnerships it has with companies to verify the quality of certain products, such as an agreement it has with Gojo Industries Inc., the maker of Purell hand sanitizer. It also has investors including Realist Ventures, also based in Connecticut.


Batiste, Not Your Mother’s and Dove are the top-selling dry shampoo brands in the United States, with Batiste accounting for 44% of $309 million in sales in the year ending July 10 among the top 10 brands, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research company. Sales of dry shampoos were up 22% from a year earlier, IRI said.

Church & Dwight CEO Matt Farrell told investors on an Oct. 28 earnings call that usage of Batiste increased 37% in the third quarter from a year earlier, giving the company a market share of 46%. CFO Rick Dierker added, “Batiste is growing like crazy. Everything is fine, we cannot meet all the demand, consumption is increasing dramatically. »

A spray from a box of Not Your Mother’s Beach Babe dry shampoo contained 158 parts per million of benzene, Valisure found. In previous studies, the lab found sunscreens with up to 6 parts per million, hand sanitizers with 16 parts per million, and antiperspirants with 18. A box of Batiste Bare dry shampoo contained 15 parts per million. benzene in a single spray. The Environmental Protection Agency said chronically inhaling benzene at levels of 0.4 parts per billion (0.0004 parts per million) over a lifetime could lead to one additional cancer per 100,000 people, a measure of risk that the FDA also uses.

“Dry shampoo is not a product you use once and you’re done,” said David Light, CEO of Valisure. “A lot of people use it once a day, or a few times a week.”

The high numbers call into question statements like the one made by Unilever when recalling Dove, Tresemme, Suave, Bed Head and Rockaholic dry shampoos on October 18, stating that “based on an independent health risk assessment, Daily exposure to benzene in the recalled products at levels detected during testing is not expected to result in adverse health consequences. Unilever did not respond to questions about the levels of benzene found in its products.

“We had seen significant amounts of benzene in Unilever products before they were recalled,” Light said, declining to specify quantities.

P&G was the first to recall dry shampoo in December, pulling the Pantene and Herbal Essences versions from shelves. The move came after P&G tested its entire aerosol portfolio following revelations from Valisure’s previous work. No other major consumer goods maker has publicly disclosed similar internal tests.

Sunscreens, disinfectants

Valisure has found high levels of benzene in aerosol sunscreens, including versions of Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena products; aerosol antiperspirants such as Procter & Gamble’s Secret and Old Spice brands; and some hand sanitizers that were introduced to the market at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

The supply chains that bring consumers their grooming products are complex, global efforts, making it difficult to pinpoint precisely where toxins are being introduced.

The problems potentially trace back “to a raw material that is contaminated and goes through the entire global supply chain, through all the different hands it has to touch, and all the different quality checkpoints that are supposed to be there. ,” Lumiere said. After all that, “it still ends up on the shelf in the hands of customers, in their homes, with such alarming levels of contamination. This is very concerning.

Some companies have pointed to thrusters as the problem. Spray personal care products, including dry shampoos, often contain propellants like propane and butane which are petroleum distillates made by refining crude oil. Benzene is a known contaminant in petroleum products. Propane and butane used in personal care products are supposed to be purified so that no benzene is present. The FDA has confirmed that propellants are a potential source of benzene contamination.

On July 29, Edgewell Personal Care Co. recalled its Banana Boat Hair & Scalp spray sunscreen due to benzene contamination. The company said “the unexpected levels of benzene were from the propellant spraying the product out of the can.” The FDA has asked companies that make high-risk pharmaceutical products to be contaminated with benzene, such as sunscreen, to test for the toxin. Dry shampoo is a cosmetic regulated by the FDA, but not as strictly as drugs.

No limits

Although the FDA has not set benzene limits for cosmetics, it does state that products must not contain “any poisonous or deleterious substances.” In drug applications, the FDA allows levels of 2 parts per million of benzene if “use is unavoidable in order to produce a drug product with significant therapeutic advancement.”

Valisure asked the FDA to clarify that there is no acceptable level of benzene in cosmetic products and to develop guidelines for testing benzene in cosmetics.

Valisure’s analysis found extreme variation in sprays, even from the same can, “suggesting inconsistent product composition and/or aerosolization in some products,” the lab said in the petition. While Not Your Mother’s Clean Freak Dry Shampoo contained 143 parts per million of benzene in the first spray, the fourth spray contained 93 parts per million. Valisure’s findings, including a list of contaminated dry shampoos, can be found in the petition it filed with the FDA.

The contamination could be even higher than these results, an in-depth study has shown.

Valisure has been testing for benzene in personal care products for some time, but with its dry shampoo probe, researchers have taken a more thorough approach. The lab has partnered with Syft Technologies, a company that designs and sells trace gas analysis equipment, to perform direct air measurement tests, which can more accurately capture benzene levels. Syft is headquartered in New Zealand, with an office in Pittsburgh.

When Valisure tests a product, it uses a standard procedure which requires putting a sample in a vial. This means that some chemicals may escape before they have been measured. Syft uses a method that detects levels of chemicals in the air, including anything sprayed from an aerosol can. Using data from Syft, Valisure determined that it’s possible that actual benzene levels in spray dry shampoo are 10 to 50 times higher than what standard testing reveals.

For example, Syft found benzene levels of 1,600 parts per billion — 4,000 times higher than EPA recommendations — in the initial cloud of a 10-second spray of Not Your Mother’s Dry Shampoo. Longer term exposure showed around 36 parts per billion, with Syft taking measurements in a 550 cubic foot space for 15 minutes. Using this data, Valisure calculated that the concentration of benzene in the Not Your Mother’s box was 340 parts per million, or 170 times the FDA limit for drugs.

Data based on Syft’s findings likely more closely mimics real-world conditions. “It’s especially dangerous,” Light said.