A proposed class action filed last week against Neutrogena Corporation and Johnson & Johnson is among the first to be filed after tests conducted by online pharmacy Valisure found that dozens of popular sunscreens contain benzene, a known carcinogen.
According to the 24-page lawsuit, filed May 25, a handful of spray and lotion sunscreens made by Neutrogena, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, were among those found to contain benzene.
The suit claims Neutrogena and Johnson & Johnson have violated both federal law and a Florida consumer protection statute given benzene—a chemical that can be derived from petroleum and is a “well-established cause of cancer in humans”—was not disclosed as an ingredient on the sunscreens’ labels. By advertising their sunscreens as “safe and effective” and hiding the presence of benzene, the defendants have unlawfully sold misbranded or adulterated products, the lawsuit alleges. As stated in the complaint:
Benzene, a known human carcinogen, is not on the FDA’s list of acceptable active or inactive ingredients for Sunscreen Products. Nor is benzene identified as an active or inactive ingredient on any of the Neutragena [sic] Sunscreen Products. Nevertheless, Defendants proclaim in their advertising that ‘Neutrogena maintains that the sunscreen ingredients we use are safe and effective . . .’, which is a false and misleading statement."
According to the lawsuit, there is “no safe level of benzene” exposure, meaning the defendant’s products are unsuitable for human use and could even endanger users’ health.
The case seeks a court order requiring that the defendants stop selling the allegedly affected products and issue a recall if necessary, among other corrective actions. The lawsuit also looks to give people who purchased the Neutrogena sunscreens their money back.
Valisure Finds Dozens of Sunscreens Contain Benzene
The proposed class action lawsuit was filed a day after online pharmacy Valisure filed a citizen petition with the FDA asking the agency to recall dozens of sunscreens and after-sun products found to contain benzene.
Valisure analyzed 294 unique batches from 69 brands and detected benzene in 78 of the tested batches. According to the company’s findings, 26 batches contained the carcinogen in concentrations between 0.1 ppm (parts per million) and 2.0 ppm and 14 contained amounts greater than 2.0 ppm. (For reference, the lawsuit notes that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that workers expected to be exposed to benzene at levels of 0.1 ppm or higher wear protective gear.)
According to Valisure’s petition, Neutrogena sunscreens made up 10 of the 14 batches that were shown to have the highest benzene concentrations.
The lawsuit relays that the health hazards associated with benzene—exposure to which can carry a “substantially increased risk” of developing leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, according to the World Health Organization—have been recognized for over 100 years. The FDA classifies benzene as a “Class 1” solvent, i.e., those that should be “avoided,” and warns that such solvents “should not be employed in the manufacture of drug substances, excipients, and drug products because of their unacceptable toxicities or deleterious environmental effect,” the suit says. As an FDA-regulated product, sunscreen should never contain benzene—especially in the amounts Valisure reportedly detected, the lawsuit stresses.
While Valisure requested that the FDA issue a recall of the identified batches of sunscreen, which are listed on pages 12 to 15 of the citizen petition, the agency has not yet taken any action.
Importantly, Valisure also included a list of sunscreens in which benzene was not detected, which can be found here.
Which Neutrogena Sunscreens Allegedly Contain Benzene?
While the lawsuit looks to cover individuals who purchased any Neutrogena lotion or spray sunscreen products, Valisure specifically found the following to contain benzene:
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 45
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Water Resistant Sunscreen SPF 70
Neutrogena Beach Defense Oil-Free Body Sunscreen Spray - SPF 100
Neutrogena Beach Defense Spray Body Sunscreen SPF 50
Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Body Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 60+
Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray SPF 70
Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray SPF 50
Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Face Sunscreen SPF 50
Who Does the Lawsuit Look to Cover?
The case looks to cover anyone who purchased a Neutrogena lotion or spray sunscreen product in the U.S. or any of its territories (excluding California) since May 25, 2017 for personal use or consumption.
The lawsuit alternatively looks to cover those who purchased the products in Florida for personal use or consumption at any time since May 25, 2017.
It’s important to note that the “class,” i.e., those covered by the lawsuit, has not yet been certified by a judge and could change as the lawsuit progresses.
Will More Class Action Lawsuits Be Filed?
It’s possible that the makers of other brands named in Valisure’s petition, including Sun Bum, CVS Health, Fruit of the Earth, Banana Boat, Raw Elements, Goodsense, Coppertone and Walgreens, among others, could be named in future proposed class actions. We’ll do our best to post updates here if more lawsuits are filed.
If you’ve used sunscreens that were listed in Valisure’s petition but not yet subject to any lawsuit, you could also reach out to an attorney in your area to find out more about what’s involved with filing a class action. Attorneys typically offer free initial consultations and should be able to help explain your rights and options.
How Do I Join the Lawsuit?
At this time, there’s nothing you need to do to join the lawsuit. It can sometimes take months or even years before a case reaches the point where consumers can take action by filing a claim, which occurs only after a settlement has been reached. If the case moves forward and settles, those affected should receive notice with instructions on what to do next. You can find more information about that process here.
In the meantime, sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter here to get class action news and updates sent straight to your inbox.