Johnson & Johnson was hit with at least two proposed class actions this week as it issued a voluntary recall of five Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreen products the company said contain low levels of benzene, a known carcinogen.
In its July 14 recall announcement, J&J urged consumers to stop using the recalled items—Neutrogena Beach Defense, Cool Dry Sport, Invisible Daily and Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreens and Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen—after internal testing identified “low levels of benzene in some samples of the products.” The recall comes nearly two months after a report revealed that benzene, which the FDA has said should not be present in sunscreen products, had been identified in samples of certain Neutrogena and Aveeno items.
The proposed class actions, filed on July 14 in California and July 15 in New York, mirror previous litigation in alleging Johnson & Johnson and Neutrogena have violated federal and state consumer protection laws by failing to disclose the presence of benzene on product labels. According to the New York complaint, J&J and Neutrogena specifically list the active and inactive ingredients of the following products yet fail to disclose that they contain benzene:
Neutrogena Beach Defense Oil-Free Body Sunscreen Spray – SPF 30;
Neutrogena Beach Defense Oil-Free Body Sunscreen Spray – SPF 50;
Neutrogena Beach Defense Oil-Free Body Sunscreen Spray – SPF 70;
Neutrogena Beach Defense Oil-Free Body Sunscreen Spray – SPF 100;
Neutrogena Beach Defense Water + Sun Protect – SPF 30;
Neutrogena Beach Defense Water + Sun Protect – SPF 50;
Neutrogena Beach Defense Water + Sun Protect – SPF 60;
Neutrogena Beach Defense Water + Sun Protect – SPF 70;
Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray – SPF 30;
Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray – SPF 50;
Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray – SPF 70;
Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray – SPF 100;
The California case, filed against Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc., cites a study by independent online pharmacy Valisure that determined benzene is “not unavoidably present in the sunscreen products” and relays that any significant detection of benzene, per FDA guidelines, should be deemed unacceptable. According to the suit, the presence of benzene in the sunscreens render them adulterated, misbranded and unlawful to sell.
The New York lawsuit stresses J&J markets and advertises the above-listed products in a way that attempts to appeal to health-conscious consumers. Per the suit, the sunscreen products are labeled with claims that include “#1 Dermatologist Recommended Brand” while failing to reference the fact that the items contain benzene, a substance the 25-page complaint stresses has been known “for approximately a century” to be hazardous to humans.
Because consumers lack the meaningful ability to test or independently verify whether a product contains unsafe substances, they must rely on companies such as Johnson & Johnson to truthfully and honestly report what an item contains. Rather than list benzene as an ingredient, J&J’s labeling of certain Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreens instead misleads consumers, the case alleges, claiming the pharma giant’s decision to hide the presence of the carcinogen was on purpose.
“Defendants’ concealment was material and intentional because people are concerned with what is in the products that they are putting onto and into their bodies,” the complaint says. “Consumers such as Plaintiff and the Class Members are influenced by the ingredients listed. Defendants know that if it had not omitted that the Products contained benzene, then Plaintiff and the Class would not have paid a premium for the Products (or purchased them at all) and Defendants wanted to increase sales/profits.”
Johnson & Johnson voluntarily pulled several of its products “out of an abundance of caution,” the recall notice says. The company said daily exposure to benzene in the recalled aerosol sunscreens at the levels the substance was found “would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences.” Consumers who wish to receive a refund for certain Neutrogena and Aveeno products recalled by J&J can contact the company’s consumer care line at 1-800-458-1673.
Anyone who has experienced an adverse reaction after using the products is urged to complete and submit the online FDA MedWatch form here.
“The health and safety of the people who use our products is our top priority. Our voluntary decision to remove all lots of these specific aerosol sunscreen product lines from the market is being made out of an abundance of caution.”
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