Regularly spraying benzene under your arms could be the pits so to speak. This is why Procter & Gamble (P&G) is voluntarily recalling certain Old Spice and Secret antiperspirants and hygiene products after detection of benzene in samples of these products. After all, you don’t want to worry about the possibility of benzene causing cancer and other serious health issues.
Of course, even if you apply a body spray like dusting a field or recreating the dry ice fog on The Phantom of the Opera, one or even a few applications of body spray will probably not get you enough benzene to make you sick. It’s not as if these products are pure or even mostly benzene. The P&G announcement said the company “has not received any reports of adverse events related to this recall and is proceeding with this recall as a precaution,” as opposed to a lack of caution. However, repeated exposure to very small amounts of benzene over time could lead to health problems like anemia and leukemia.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also released the recall announcement, which provided a list of specific products affected by the recall and their associated Universal Product Codes (UPCs). All of them were packaged in spray cans and have expiration dates until September 2023. As you can see these products have names like Old Spice High Endurance, Old Spice Hardest Working Collection, Old Spice Below Deck, Secret , Secret Fresh Collection, Secret Outlast and Old Spice Pure Sport. So if you have a secret you might want to check out the product with this recall list.
If you remember, this isn’t the first major product recall due to benzene this month. On November 14th I covered for TNZT one such recall involving ArtNaturals Hand Sanitizer. Almost eight months before this recall, Valisure, a company that tests and verifies the composition of various health-related products, announced on March 24 that it had found benzene in samples of the hand sanitizer. They also wrote a citizen petition letter urging the FDA to request a recall of ArtNaturals hand sanitizer.
A similar announcement from Valisure also predated the recall of Old Spice and Secret antiperspirant body spray, but with much less time in between. On November 4, Valisure announced that it had “tested and detected elevated levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen, in several brands and lots of antiperspirant body sprays, which are also considered drug products by the Food and Drug Administration ( FDA). such as in body spray deodorant products, which the FDA generally regulates as cosmetics. The announcement further stated that “54% of samples tested by Valisure contained detectable benzene and some batches contained up to nine times the FDA’s conditionally restricted concentration limit of 2 parts per million (ppm).”
In the ad, Valisure included a link to Valisure FDA Citizen’s Petition on Body Spray, a letter to the FDA calling for further investigation and encouraging recalls of the body spray products that Valisure had identified. The Valisure list included not only Old Spice and Secret products, but products from other manufacturers as well. So if you’re using anything other than a giant mop or cotton swab to make your armpits less sweaty, you might want to take a look at the Valisure list to see if your product is there.
Again, benzene can rhyme with green bean or Charlie Sheen but that doesn’t mean you should leave it around. Benzene can enter your body through the mouth, nose, skin, and mucous membranes such as the eyes. Once inside your body, benzene can be very bone marrow. It can disrupt the cells in your bone marrow. This can lead to anemia and abnormal bleeding, a weakened immune system and leukemia, which in the words of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is “a general term for cancers of the blood cells.”
Benzene in body sprays can be an even bigger problem than benzene in hand sanitizers. Unless you’re jazzing up your hands immediately after applying hand sanitizer, you’re probably not spraying the substance all over the room. On the other hand, the body spray can stay in the air long after you’re done making yourself less smelly. Anyone who walks into the bathroom, office, closet, or wherever you’ve groomed yourself can then inhale the lingering mist or get it in their eyes or on your skin. Thus, you may represent a recurring danger for yourself and those around you. “Honey, at least I’m less smelly” wouldn’t be a reasonable compromise for causing cancer in your partner later.
Why is benzene now detected in different consumer products? Well, the benzene in many products could be a bit like love between friends at the start of a romantic comedy. Maybe it’s been around for a long time, but people just haven’t really looked for it. In fact, David Light, founder and CEO of Valisure, said “contamination issues may have been even worse in the past.” He described benzene as a “cheap solvent. It is an excellent chemical for making other chemicals. As a result, benzene has long been widely used in many different industries.
But things started to change after “the first epidemiological studies showing the links between benzene and cancer were published in the late 1970s,” according to Light. He said benzene is now “one of the best understood and best documented carcinogens”. Light added that studies published in the 1970s led to “a push in the 1980s to replace benzene. Industry has gone to great lengths to eliminate benzene from products.
Benzene is therefore perhaps less common today than before. Still, without more routine independent testing, it’s hard to say where benzene and other potential carcinogens may still persist. “There is a need for a layer of independent testing,” Light pointed out. “Independent review has been most absent for pharmaceuticals and consumer goods. It continues to rely heavily on self-assessment. In other words, like body odor, without other people being able to sniffle and say “you stink”, problems can go unnoticed. Light described this as an “honor system” and pointed out that what had happened with the Boeing 737 MAX showed how “honor systems” were not enough to keep the public safe.
“The way the system is set up, a lot of people defer to the FDA and assume the FDA is doing it all,” Light explained. “But the FDA just makes sure the manufacturer is GMP compliant [good manufacturing practices]. The actual tests are carried out by the manufacturer.
Here is another challenge. As supply chains become more complex and global, it is increasingly difficult to ensure the quality and safety of various raw materials. Benzene and other such contaminants could already be in the raw materials used and processed long before a manufacturer sees them.
All of this indicates a need for more independent testing. This means that labs that do not yet have strong ties to manufacturers routinely examine different consumer goods and pharmaceuticals for a range of possible impurities and contaminants. After all, someone needs to elevate a stench when antiperspirants and other products contain benzene or any other unacceptable chemical that can cause illness.