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Benzene: P&G Issues Recall for Old Spice and Secret Antiperspirant Sprays

Proctor & Gamble (P&G) has issued a recall of specific ‘Old Spice’ antiperspirant aerosol spray, ‘Old Spice Below Deck’ antiperspirant spray, and ‘Secret’ antiperspirant aerosol spray, due to the detection of Benzene, (also known as Benzol), and toxic substance, found in the formula. The FDA followed with up a “voluntary” recall for the contaminated products. 

On their official website1Proctor & Gamble list ingredients that their products have never used. Benzene, (3-methoxy-2-methylpropyl), Benzene, 1,2,3-Trimethyl-, Benzene, 1,2,4-trimethyl-, Benzene, 1,3,5-trimethyl-, are all ingredients listed, among others, yet somehow the substance has found its way into the company’s products.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. “No specific antidote exists for benzene poisoning.” The FDA has labeled benzene as, a Class 1 solvent [able to dissolve other substances]. According to the FDA2“Solvents in Class 1 (Table 1) should not be employed in the manufacture of drug substances, excipients, and drug products because of their unacceptable toxicity or their deleterious environmental effect.” Yet they are responsible for the regulatory neglect causing the substance to appear in many frighteningly familiar American products and medicines.

This is only a sample of the deceit behind the FDA’s regulatory measures and practices. Even Class 3 solvents which are labeled as “less toxic and of lower risk to human health.” quietly disclose by the FDA themselves, that in actuality “there are no long-term toxicity or carcinogenicity studies for many of the solvents in Class 3.” Should Americans, who rely on [and fund] the FDA for regulatory inspections and quality testings, be only concerned with the short-term impacts of their health? 

OSHA guidelines3 allow U.S. workers to breathe benzene-infused air with as much as one part per million (1 ppm) benzene, averaged over an eight-hour workday. While the maximum short-term limit for exposure limit is air with as much as five parts per million (5ppm) benzene within a fifteen-minute interval.

Benzene, produced naturally from coal, volcanoes, crude oil, and forest fires, is a toxic chemical compound that causes harmful effects on human bone marrow, as well as a decrease in red blood cells. Benzene is also found in gasoline, cigarette smoke, glues, adhesives, and cleaning products. Benzene is a known carcinogen, and exposure, even through inhalation, or skin contact, can result in leukemia, blood cancer, and severe life threatening blood disorders. Benzene can lead to anemia, among other detrimental health effects. Additionally, Benzene is a skin irritant, and known to cause dermatitis.

According to the CDC, Benzene has a “sweet odor”, and evaporates quickly. Benzene’s vapor is heavier than air4, allowing it to stay within a breathable range. The substance also floats in water, and will not dissolve. Benzene causes human cells to stop working correctly. This can ultimately damage the immune system, making the user more susceptible to poor health and sickness.

Benzene side effects include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Death (at very high levels)
    • Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to benzene.
    • Direct exposure of the eyes, skin, or lungs to benzene can cause tissue injury and irritation.

How did Benzene get into the antiperspirant ingredients?

“Benzene is ubiquitous in the environment.” announced the FDA, adding that

“Humans around the world have daily exposures to it indoors and outdoors from multiple sources.” According to the FDA“[B]ased on exposure modeling and the cancer risk assessments published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), daily expose to benzene in the recalled products at the levels detected in our testing would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences.”

The FDA publicly admits their inability to regulate the quality of the ingredients during international manufacturing and distribution, stating,

“[The] FDA faces ever-greater challenges in determining whether a product has been properly manufactured, distributed and stored and even in determining who has handled the product.  The manufacture of a single product can now involve multiple parties from different countries that are engaged at various steps throughout the process. Along the way, there are opportunities for the product to be improperly formulated or packaged, contaminated, diverted, counterfeited or adulterated.

The FDA is responsible for enforcing regulations through inspections and manufacturing standards. Major Pharmaceutical companies seeking to increase profits, often attain ingredients for their products in other countries, such as China. In their attempts to maximize profits, they choose to accept ingredients manufactured in foreign countries, which the FDA cannot afford to provide international inspections for. This small oversight allows facilities to “cut corners”, allowing for cheaper prices, for the ingredients that are distributed throughout America. 

Not only does international manufacturing allow for inhumane working conditions of the workers, and an unregulated environment for their manufacturing plant, it puts the American population at risk, while reducing the need for domestic manufacturing to the point of non-existence, until often times America must rely on foreign import for necessary ingredients and medicines, like that of Penicillin, which in no longer made in America. 

According to Bloomberg5, this isn’t the only brand which benzene has been found. An independent testing company from New Haven, CT called “Valisure6 stated they first detected benzene in consumer products in March when it tested hand sanitizers.

Valisure stated that “59 antiperspirant and deodorant body spray products contained benzene, an industrial chemical known to cause leukemia and other potentially serious health risks”

“The EPA has estimated that lifetime exposure to benzene at 0.4 parts per billion (“ppb”), or 0.0004 ppm, will increase the risk of developing cancer in humans at the same 1 in 100,000 exposed persons rate as FDA uses to set regulatory limits on other trace impurities like N-nitrosamines. N-Nitrosamines like “NDMA” have been detected by Valisure in drug products and this was followed by broad recalls of ranitidine (Zantac), metformin and other drugs. Although the EPA calculated concentration of 0.4 ppb in air does not directly apply to the level of contamination inside an aerosol product, which is not likely inhaled in its entirety, it does provide rational guidance for calculations of potential exposure for such products as body sprays that may regularly be used indoors and in enclosed spaces. Furthermore, many of the body sprays Valisure tested contain highly volatile propellants such as butane, propane and others, which could potentially evaporate and disperse benzene rapidly in the air.

Annual Reviews7, whose research is funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants [RO1ES06721, P42ES04705, and U54ES01611,] stated, 

“Because the genotoxic action of benzene metabolites on pluripotent bone marrow precursor cells appears promiscuous, producing multiple genetic abnormalities, it seems probable that benzene exposure can initiate both AML and ALL by causing the chromosomal rearrangements and mutations that are on the causal pathway to these malignancies.”


The FDA’s standards are physically limited to national enforcement and regulation while on U.S. soil, yet they allow the marketing and distribution of these products for profit, while assuring the consumer they are safe and under regulation. The erroneous neglect of the FDA encourages the consumer to question the very ethics and standards of the entire administration responsible for the oversight of Food and Medicine distributed throughout America. Could international manufacturing have been the source of the benzene contaminated antiperspirant? What other medicines and products contain other toxic chemicals due to an oversight in their international manufacturing?



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