March 27, 2023

Dry shampoo reminder: Why does cancer-causing benzene end up in hair products? – National |

Cancer experts are urging companies that sell personal care products to increase vigilance and test for toxic chemicals after a dry shampoo was recalled in Canada this week.

On Tuesday, Unilever and Health Canada announced a recall involving more than 1.5 million dry shampoo products made by Dove, Bed Head and Tresemmé because of the cancer-causing chemical benzene.

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This is not the first time benzene has been detected in personal care products such as dry shampoos, deodorants and aerosol spray sunscreens in Canada, prompting a safety recall.

In December 2021, more than 800,000 units of Herbal Essence and Pantene dry shampoo and conditioner aerosol products were also recalled due to benzene detection.

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Also in November of last year, about 1.4 million units of Old Spice and Secret perspirants were part of another benzene-related recall.

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In fact, in the past two years, at least 12 recalls have been linked to aerosol spray products and elevated benzene levels, according to Health Canada data.

Paul Demers, director of the Center for Occupational Cancer Research and a professor at the University of Toronto, said it’s troubling to see the trend.

“It’s not something that should end up in personal care products,” he said. “It’s just bad production to do that.

“You definitely don’t want to spray it on your body or put it in your hair.”

Here’s what you should know.

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Benzene is a sweet smelling, colorless or pale yellow liquid chemical.

The toxic and flammable chemical is formed in nature and by human activity.

Benzene is used to make other chemicals related to plastics, resins, nylon, synthetic fibers, lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides.

In Canada, outdoor and indoor air are the primary source of human exposure to benzene.

In the United States, benzene is widely used and is among the top 20 chemicals in production volume, according to the CDC.

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Why was benzene found in dry shampoo?

Ivan Litvinov, a dermatologist and researcher in the cancer research program at the McGill University Health Center (MUHC), said he was not surprised by the recent reminder.

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His own research has shown that benzene contamination is nothing new and the chemical is known to have contaminated many personal care products in recent years.

“Benzene is unavoidable and we are exposed to it whether we like it or not,” he said.

The recalled products were distributed nationwide in Canada through retail outlets and online.

Image courtesy of Health Canada

Unilever Canada said it does not use benzene as an ingredient in its products.

In a statement announcing the recall, the distributor said an internal investigation identified an aerosol propellant as the source of “potentially elevated benzene levels” in several batches of dry shampoo products.

Litvinov explained where the source materials come from and the production process may cause elevated benzene levels.

“We believe it is contamination of the source materials … because benzene is not inherent to the product itself.”

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Benzene is a carcinogen, and exposure to the chemical by inhalation or absorption, through the mouth or through the skin can lead to leukemia, blood cancer of the bone marrow and blood disorders that can be life-threatening, according to Health Canada.

“However, daily exposure to benzene at the levels found in the tests in the recalled products is not expected to cause adverse health effects,” the agency said.

Demers said the risk of benzene exposure from using the hair product was not a major concern.

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“It’s not something I would worry about if I had used hairspray a few times or even a few weeks or a few months,” she told Global News Friday.

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Short-term effects associated with high benzene levels include dizziness, drowsiness, headaches or even unconsciousness, Demers said.

He warned that years of exposure to even small levels of benzene can cause leukemia.

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In addition, it is somewhat possible that thrombocytopenia and various immune diseases are also related to benzene exposure, Litvinov said.

He said that while the overall risk of using the shampoo may be low, “there is no safe exposure to benzene.”

Health Canada has advised consumers to immediately stop using the recalled products and dispose of them according to the instructions on the packaging.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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