The makers of Sun Bum, Paul Mitchell and Batiste dry shampoos have each been hit with a proposed class action lawsuit in the wake of reports that certain products contain dangerously high levels of benzene, a known carcinogenic impurity linked to leukemia and other cancers.
The lawsuits against S.C. Johnson & Son and Sun Bum, John Paul Mitchell Systems and Church & Dwight Co. contend that the presence of benzene in the companies’ aerosol dry shampoos render the products adulterated and misbranded, and thus illegal to sell under federal and state law.
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The products covered in the lawsuits include Sun Bum Beach Formula Dry Shampoo, Paul Mitchell Invisiblewear Brunette Dry Shampoo, and 13 varieties of Batiste dry shampoos. The suits stress that the presence of benzene in the products is especially concerning given that dry shampoo is typically used indoors at large volumes and applied directly to the scalp and hair, creating the potential for short- and long-term inhalation.
“The Product is worthless because it contains or risked containing benzene, a known human carcinogen that is an avoidable ingredient in the Product and Defendant’s manufacturing process,” the complaint against Paul Mitchel says.
The suits state that although the companies list the active and inactive ingredients on product labels, benzene, a component of crude oil, gasoline and cigarette smoke, is not mentioned.
“Thus, Defendants misrepresent that the Products do not contain benzene, or otherwise Defendants fail to disclose that the Products contain benzene,” the suit against S.C. Johnson and Sun Bum summarizes, contending that consumers would not have bought the dry shampoo, or would have paid significantly less for it, had they known it contained or risked containing the carcinogen.
According to the complaint against Church & Dwight, benzene has been recognized as a serious health hazard for nearly a century. Given that epidemiological studies have long shown that benzene is directly linked to cancer even at very low levels, researchers have concluded that there is no safe level of benzene exposure, the suit states.
The case explains that aerosol products such as dry shampoos rely on the power of liquified or compressed gas to expel the contents from their container. Common aerosol propellants for consumer items include butane, isobutane and propane, which are typically derived from crude oil and made in oil refineries where other volatile hydrocarbons, like benzene, are produced, the lawsuit states. Given that the manufacture of butane, isobutane and propane happens in an environment where high levels of benzene exist, there is a risk that products reliant on a hydrocarbon propellant can become contaminated, the suit contends.
On October 31, 2022, independent laboratory Valisure submitted to the FDA a citizen petition detailing how it tested and detected high levels of benzene in specific batches of certain dry shampoo products. Valisure, who tested 148 batches from 34 brands, found that 70 percent of the tested products, including Sun Bum, Paul Mitchell and Batiste dry shampoos, contained benzene.
Although the FDA allows for up to two parts per million (ppm) of benzene to be included in certain drug products if its use is unavoidable, the benzene in the defendants’ products far exceeds this limit, the lawsuits say, arguing that the dry shampoos need not contain benzene at all.
“Moreover, according to Valisure, ‘the dry shampoos tested are not drugs and contain no active pharmaceutical ingredient for therapeutic purpose,’” the Sun Bum case reads. “‘[T]herefore, any significant detection of benzene could be deemed unacceptable.’”
The lawsuits look to cover consumers nationwide who bought the contaminated Sun Bum, Paul Mitchell or Batiste dry shampoos for personal or household use and not for resale.
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