A proposed class action claims certain Suave antiperspirant aerosol and spray products are contaminated with “dangerously high” levels of benzene, a known carcinogen.
The 31-page lawsuit against Suave maker Unilever United States contends that there exists no acceptable amount of benzene—which has been linked to leukemia and other cancers—that should be found in antiperspirant sprays. Nevertheless, the select Suave products at issue in the case, including batches of the Suave 24 Hour Protection aerosols, have allegedly been found to contain as much as 5.51 parts per million (ppm) of benzene, rendering them adulterated and misbranded under federal law and “therefore worthless,” according to the suit.
“Under federal law, a product that is ‘adulterated’ or ‘misbranded’ cannot legally be manufactured, advertised, distributed, or sold,” the complaint contests. “Adulterated and misbranded products thus have no economic value and are legally worthless.”
The case claims Unilever has failed to disclose the presence of benzene on product labels and in advertising and has thus misled consumers. According to the lawsuit, no reasonable consumer would have purchased the Suave antiperspirants had they known the products contained benzene, a petrochemical found in crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke that causes cancer in humans.
Although the FDA recommends that benzene “should not be employed in the manufacture of drug substances, excipients, and drug products” given its level of toxicity, the agency has noted that if benzene’s presence is “unavoidable” in the manufacture of a product that confers a significant therapeutic advantage, its levels should be limited to 2 ppm.
According to the suit, online pharmacy and analytical laboratory Valisure LLC issued to the FDA a November 2021 citizen petition in which the pharmacy revealed it had detected “high levels of benzene and other contaminants” in certain body spray products, including Suave antiperspirants. Per the complaint, benzene was detected in Suave products in amounts as high as 5.21 ppm, well above the FDA limit.
The case stresses that because benzene was not found in all batches of body spray tested by Valisure, it appears its presence is not “unavoidable” as far as the products’ manufacture. Moreover, the body sprays are not known to provide a significant therapeutic advantage such that a small amount of benzene could be considered acceptable, the lawsuit argues.
“Accordingly, any level of benzene in Defendant’s Products is unacceptable and therefore renders the Products adulterated, misbranded, unsafe, and worthless,” the complaint scathes.
The lawsuit argues that if Unilever had followed good manufacturing practices (GMP) as required for the production of over-the-counter drugs such as body sprays, the company would have discovered the presence of benzene in the Suave products “almost immediately.” Per the suit, Unilever “made no reasonable effort” to test its products for impurities and failed to disclose to consumers that its Suave body sprays contain unacceptable levels of benzene, making them illegal to sell.
The lawsuit looks to represent anyone in the U.S. who purchased Suave antiperspirant aerosol and spray products. A state-specific subclass has also been proposed for those who purchased the products in Florida.
Important to note is that Valisure’s citizen petition states that no benzene was detected in batches of some Suave body sprays, including the Suave 24 Hour Protection, Powder, Instantly Dry, Dry Spray and the Suave Coconut Kiss, Instantly Dry, Dry Spray. The full list of products tested by Valisure can be found here.
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