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Dove, Tresemme Dry Shampoos Recalled Over Cancer Risk: What Is Benzene; Its Negative Effects

Following the discovery that some aerosol products contained potentially elevated levels of benzene, Unilever United States recalled popular aerosol products such as dry shampoo manufactured by Dove and a few other popular brands.

In a notice issued by Unilever on 18 October and published by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 21 October, the recall pertains to products produced before October 2021.

Dry shampoo is a type of shampoo that does not require water to be administered to the hair. It comes in powder form and is normally applied from an aerosol can. Dry shampoo is often based on either corn starch or rice starch.

Unilever United States issued a voluntary product recall to the consumer level of select lot codes of dry shampoo aerosol products from Dove, Nexxus, Suave, TIGI (Rockaholic and Bed Head), and TRESemme due to potentially elevated levels of benzene [1].

Why Were TRESemme And Dove Products Recalled?

As stated on the Food and Drug Administration website, Unilever Plc has recalled popular dry shampoo brands, including Dove and Tresemme, as they were found to contain benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer. This recall includes brands such as Dove, Tresemme, Tigi, Suave, and Nexxus, which manufactures Rockaholic and Bed Head dry shampoos.

Products made before October 2021 are included in the recall. The observation has now brought the issue of personal care products' safety to the forefront [2].

What Is Benzene?

A colourless to light yellow liquid, benzene is a chemical at room temperature that has a sweet odour. It is highly flammable, evaporates quickly into the air, and its vapour is heavier than air, causing it to sink into low-lying areas. Both natural processes and human activities contribute to the formation of benzene [3].

A number of natural sources of benzene exist, including volcanoes and forest fires. It is also found in crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. Benzene ranks among the top 20 chemicals in terms of production volume in the United States [4].

Some industries also use benzene to make other chemicals used in manufacturing plastics, resins, nylon, and synthetic fibres. In addition, it is used to make lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, pesticides, and other types of chemicals. Benzene dissolves only slightly in water and floats on its surface.

According to experts, we breathe in benzene every day from the air we breathe, especially when we fill up our vehicles at the gas station - which is not usual in India as we do not have self-service petrol pumps [5]. It may also be found in cigarettes, detergents, glues, and paints.

How Did Benzene End Up In Dry Shampoo?

According to Unilever, benzene was found in the propellant used in the spray cans of the dry shampoo, and the company is working with its suppliers to resolve this issue.

How Does Benzene Affect Our Health?

Food and Drug Administration officials warn that long-term exposure to benzene, a carcinogenic, can cause serious health issues, including cancers such as leukaemia and other blood disorders [6].

There are several ways in which benzene can harm the body. First, it affects the body's cells by causing them not to work properly. For example, benzene can cause the bone marrow to fail to produce enough red blood cells, leading to anaemia. Furthermore, it can cause damage to the immune system by changing the blood levels of antibodies and causing white blood cell loss [7].

Affected organs include the liver, kidney, lung, heart, and brain after inhalation or absorption of benzene.

In addition to vomiting, dizziness, sleepiness, and convulsions, high levels of benzene can cause damage to the eyes, skin, and lungs, causing irritation [8]. Women whose ovaries were exposed to high levels of benzene reported irregular menstrual periods and decreased ovaries [9]. It is unknown whether benzene exposure affects the developing foetus in pregnant women or male fertility.

Benzene And Cancer Risk

According to studies conducted in humans and laboratory animals, benzene causes cancer, with most studies focusing on leukaemia and other blood cancers [10][11].

Researchers have found that workers exposed to high levels of benzene, such as those in the chemical, shoemaking, and oil refining industries, have a higher incidence of leukaemia, particularly acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

It has also been suggested that childhood leukaemia (particularly AML) may also be associated with acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), and other blood-related cancers (like multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma) in adults. However, for these cancers, the evidence is not as strong.

The evidence linking benzene to other types of cancer is much less robust.

What Other Products Usually Contain Benzene?

The aerosolised versions of conditioners, deodorants, antifungal deodorants, and sunscreens, including Brut, Pantene, and Old Spice, among others, have all been recalled over possible benzene contamination in the past two years [13].

Several industries use benzene to manufacture other chemicals used to manufacture plastics, resins, nylon, and synthetic fibres. In addition, benzene is used as a component of lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.

Were Dove And Other Products Recalled In India?

In response to inquiries, Hindustan Unilever Ltd has stated that it does not manufacture or sell dry shampoos in India [14].

On A Final Note...

Benzene is known to be a human carcinogen. In addition to reducing the quantity of red blood cells produced by the bone marrow (anaemia), benzene can also affect the immune system by altering the levels of antibodies in the bloodstream. In addition to becoming drowsy, dizzy and confused, benzene can also cause headaches, irregular heartbeats, and tremors in people who breathe high amounts.

Story first published: Friday, October 28, 2022, 14:00 [IST]
Read more about: dove dry shampoo cancer benzene
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