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Dry shampoos containing benzene remain on store shelves, study finds

Unilever recalls dry shampoo over cancer risk
Unilever issues dry shampoo recall over cancer risk 00:22

Dry shampoos — used as a quick fix between washes — are an increasing health concern, with more of the aerosol spray-on products found to be tainted with a cancer-causing chemical, according to findings released on Tuesday.

Benzene — the contaminant behind nationwide recalls of dry shampoos by Unilever and Procter & Gamble — is also showing up in products that remain on store shelves. That includes popular spray-on shampoos including Church & Dwight's Batiste and DeMert Brand's Not Your Mother's, the new study found.

New Haven, Connecticut-based Valisure tested 148 batches from 34 brands of spray-on dry shampoo and found benzene in 70%, the laboratory stated Tuesday in a news release.

"Thirty percent had no detectable amount of benzene, so it can be made cleanly," David Light, CEO of the independent lab, told CBS MoneyWatch on Tuesday. "There's definitely a higher risk right now with propellant-based aerosol sprays," said Light, whose company last year first alerted the Food and Drug Administration to its findings of benzene in spray sunscreens, antiperspirants and hand sanitizers.

Petition seeks recall

Valisure on Monday filed a petition with the FDA requesting that the products found to be contaminated with benzene be recalled. Exposure to benzene can result in cancers including leukemia and cancer of the bone marrow, as well as life-threatening blood disorders, health officials say.

Spray from one can of Not Your Mother's Beach Babe dry shampoo contained 158 parts per million of benzene, while a can of Batiste Bare Dry Shampoo held 15 parts per million of the chemical, according to Valisure's findings. Inhaling benzene at levels of 0.4 parts per billion frequently over a lifetime might cause an additional cancer per 100,000 people, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Batiste maker Church & Dwight declined to say whether it had any plans for a recall, with a spokesperson for the Ewing, New Jersey-based company stating in an email that the company would "evaluate the report at the center of the recent claims."

"When propellants had been reported to be the source of benzene in competitors' recalled products, we contacted our propellant suppliers and confirmed with those suppliers that the propellants used in our Batiste products do not contain benzene," the person said.

Tampa, Florida-based DeMert expressed concern about the findings, but added that the report was "inconsistent with the data provided by our suppliers and the rigorous ongoing testing to ensure the safety and integrity of our products. These tests show no traceable amounts of benzene."

Consumer use of Batiste rose 37% in the third quarter from the year-ago period, Church & Dwight CEO Matt Farrell told an earnings call on Friday. "Batiste is growing like crazy. It's doing fantastic, we can't meet all the demand, consumption is up dramatically," CFO Rick Dierker added.  

The first dry shampoo recall came in December, with P&G yanking Pantene and Herbal Essences from store shelves. 

The propellants used in many of the recalled products involve petroleum products, and there is "supposed to be a more refined version that goes into consumer and drug products," said Light. The trouble likely "goes all the way back to the beginning of the supply chain, and wasn't detected along the way," he said.

People assume that the FDA tests products, but that is not the case nor is it part of the agency mandate, Light noted, an observation echoed by the agency. 

"Manufacturers are responsible for the safety and quality of their products," an FDA spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in an email. "The FDA encourages companies and retailers to remove their products from store shelves and online marketplaces when benzene is detected."

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