Navigating Benzene’s Impact in Acne Products

Skincare Anarchy
5 min readApr 5, 2024

By: Shahara Lum

An independent U.S. laboratory, Valisure, has reported the presence of benzene, a known carcinogen, in several popular acne treatment products. This discovery has caused disruption over trusted brands like Estee Lauder’s Clinique, Target’s Up & Up, and Reckitt Benckiser-owned Clearasil, revealing that some acne treatments contain benzene levels exceeding safety limits by up to 800 times. Benzene’s presence in these products, particularly those containing benzoyl peroxide — a common ingredient in acne treatments — poses a significant risk to consumers seeking relief from acne. [1]

Benzoyl peroxide is a common ingredient found in many over-the-counter acne treatments. It works by killing the bacteria on the skin that causes acne, thereby reducing inflammation and preventing new pimples from forming. However, benzoyl peroxide is associated with many drawbacks, including skin irritation. Recent studies have shown that benzoyl peroxide can potentially break down into benzene, a known human carcinogen when exposed to heat and light. This has led to concerns about the safety of using benzoyl peroxide-containing acne treatments.

Benzene is classified as a carcinogen by both the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meaning it has the potential to cause cancer, particularly leukemia and other blood disorders. The discovery of benzene in skincare products is concerning given that these items are applied directly to the skin, potentially leading to “systemic absorption.” [1]

A recent study conducted in the United Kingdom has revealed that prolonged exposure to low levels of ambient benzene can increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, and even death. Although immediate short-term health effects are not usually observed, the risk is associated with extended periods of exposure. [2]

Valisure’s findings have prompted a closer examination of the skincare industry’s regulatory practices and the safety of ingredients used in over-the-counter products. The hazardous compound in products from well-regarded brands raises questions about the oversight and quality control measures to protect consumers. People with acne are prioritizing effective treatments. However, some popular products may have harmful levels of benzene. This requires consumers to reevaluate their choices and find safe alternatives in the skincare market.

The affected products:

  • Walgreens 10% BPO bar
  • Harris 10% BPO wash
  • Clinique 2.5% BPO cream
  • Clearasil 10% BPO cream
  • La Roche-Posay 5.5% BPO cream
  • PanOxyl 10% BPO cream
  • Sandra Lee MD 2.5% BPO lotion
  • Oxy 10% BPO cream
  • Galderma 5% BPO cream
  • Equate 10% BPO cream
  • Differin 5% BPO cream
  • CeraVe 4% BPO cream
  • Sandoz 5% BPO gel
  • TARO 2.5% BPO gel
  • Neutrogena 10% BPO gel
  • Proactiv 2.5% BPO cream
  • Up & Up 2.5% BPO cream

Valisure also discovered detectable levels of benzene in various benzoyl peroxide (BPO) creams and lotions, including La Roche-Posay’s BPO cream, PanOxyl BPO cream, Sandra Lee MD BPO lotion, Oxy’s BPO cream, Galderma’s BPO cream, Equate’s BPO cream, and several others. This information was part of a Citizen’s Petition sent to the FDA, highlighting the potential health risks associated with using these products. [4]

Safer alternatives

As a result, consumers are encouraged to look for acne treatments that do not contain benzoyl peroxide or to seek out products explicitly verified to be benzene-free. Thankfully, there are safe and effective alternatives available that can help you achieve clear, healthy skin. Ingredients such as salicylic acid, sulfur, and natural remedies like tea tree oil offer alternative options for managing acne without the associated risks of benzene exposure. Using benzene-free products allows you to continue your skincare knowing that you are not being exposed to harmful ingredients. [3]

A list of popular and highly effective acne products without benzene exposure:

  • Paula’s Choice — 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
  • The Ordinary — Soothing & Barrier Support Serum
  • La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution
  • Replenix Gly-Sal 10–2 Clarifying Pads
  • Glow Recipe — Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tight Toner
  • Paula’s Choice — 10% Azelaic Acid Booster
  • Glow Recipe — Avocado Soothing Skin Barrier Serum with Ceramides
  • Tower 28 Beauty — SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray
  • The Ordinary — Salicylic Acid 2% Exfoliating Blemish Solution
  • CeraVe Acne Control Cleanse

It is important to note that not all acne is the same, and what works for one person may not work for another. Consulting with a dermatologist or a skin care professional can help in determining the best course of action for managing acne. They can also provide personalized advice on lifestyle changes and skincare routines that can help prevent future breakouts. In some cases, prescription medications such as topical retinoids, antibiotics, or hormonal therapy may be necessary to effectively manage acne.

Tech advances in skincare

As the skincare industry continues to evolve, new technologies and formulations are being developed to address a wide range of skin concerns. With these advancements, there is a promising opportunity to discover safer and more effective alternatives to traditional acne treatment methods that rely on potentially harmful chemicals like benzoyl peroxide or have a risk of contamination with benzene.

For example, biotechnology offers exciting possibilities for creating acne treatments that utilize the power of natural and bioengineered ingredients. These innovations could lead to the development of products that are not only safer for consumers but also more environmentally sustainable.

Furthermore, biotechnology could help address concerns related to traditional acne treatments that may cause skin irritation, dryness, or redness. By using natural and genetically modified ingredients, acne treatments could be formulated to work in harmony with the skin’s natural processes, reducing the likelihood of adverse effects.

Works cited:

[1] https://www.cnn.com/2024/03/06/health/benzene-acne-products-valisure/index.html

[2] https://www.healthline.com/health-news/cancer-causing-chemical-benzene-found-in-common-acne-products#What-is-benzene?

[3] https://www.verywellhealth.com/im-allergic-to-benzoyl-peroxide-how-can-i-treat-acne-15655

[4] https://www.dermatologytimes.com/view/breaking-news-benzene-found-in-various-acne-products-valisure-files-petition-with-fda-to-recall-treatments

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Skincare Anarchy

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