Check your bathroom for select spray dry-shampoo brands including Dove, Suave, TRESemmé and TIGI’s Rockaholic and Bed Head — they’ve been voluntarily recalled after experts flagged the products for “potentially elevated levels” of benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer in humans with long-term exposure.
The U.S. division of global consumer-products giant Unilever
has issued the voluntary recall of 19 aerosol dry-shampoo products, the company announced last week. The recall affects select dry shampoos produced before October 2021. Retailers across the country have been told to remove the recalled dry shampoo from shelves, Unilever said.
Dry shampoo, typically sprayed or rubbed onto oil-prone areas of the scalp or hair, is marketed as a timesaver, and stylists often encourage clients to use it periodically instead of frequently shampooing hair in the shower or bath, which can damage hair or build up residue over the long run.
Based on an independent health-hazard evaluation, daily exposure to benzene in the recalled hair products at the levels detected in testing would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences, Unilever said in its release. It said the company is recalling the products out of an abundance of caution. Unilever said it has received no reports of adverse events to date relating to this recall.
A complete list of the affected products produced prior to October 2021, along with consumer UPC codes, can be found here. No other products from Unilever or its brands are affected by this recall.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the long-term effects of benzene exposure can include life-threatening blood disorders, significant damage to bone marrow, and cancer, specifically leukemia. The seriousness of benzene poisoning depends on the intensity and length of exposure, among other factors, the CDC says.
Hair products aren’t the only target of research into benzene’s long-term effects on health. The chemical has also come under scrutiny by scientists and academics who are measuring the long-term effects of gas stoves.
Benzene is formed both naturally and through human activity, the CDC says, noting that people nationwide are exposed to the chemical daily, at various levels, from sources including tobacco smoke, indoor paint and gas appliances.
Benzene exposure can occur through inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. The CDC says that immediate signs of high-level exposure include dizziness, vomiting, unconsciousness and, in especially severe cases, more serious illness and death.
A study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published earlier this year in the journal Environmental Science & Technology added to a growing body of research that links the piping and use of natural gas
to possible consequences for public health, including benzene exposure, and for climate change. The gas industry itself has worked to clean up emissions and study the health effects of benzene.
Unlike gas appliances such as water heaters that are usually placed away from active living spaces, cooking appliances directly expose people to their emissions. These emissions include formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and nitric oxides that can trigger asthma, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. The Harvard study looked at benzene in particular.
Over 16 months, researchers collected 234 samples of unburned natural gas from 69 homes in the Boston metropolitan area that received natural gas from three suppliers. They turned up several “air toxics,” which is an Environmental Protection Agency classification of hazardous pollutants, including benzene.
“Twenty-one of those [air toxics] are sufficiently harmful to human health that they’re considered hazardous air pollutants to the EPA,” Curtis Nordgaard, a participant in the Harvard study, told Boston’s CBS affiliate WBZ-TV. “Benzene is a known carcinogen. It causes leukemia,” he said.