A benzene sunscreen lawsuit is a claim against Neutrogena, Aveeno, Johnson & Johnson and others for manufacturing and distributing products with excessive concentrations of benzene. High levels of exposure to this chemical can cause cancer, and leukemia in particular, in humans.
Shouse Law Group is a personal injury and mass tort firm that is representing victims who used one of the recalled sunscreens and subsequently was diagnosed with leukemia. We are accepting cases from all 50 states.
In this article, our Neutrogena lawsuit attorneys will discuss:
- 1. Which sunscreens have been recalled?
- 2. Why were they recalled?
- 3. What is benzene?
- 4. Can benzene cause cancer?
- 5. What are the symptoms of leukemia?
- 6. How much compensation can victims receive?
- 7. What is the current status of the Neutrogena sunscreen lawsuits?
- 8. What if I was diagnosed with leukemia after using a recalled sunblock?
1. Which sunscreens have been recalled?
On July 14, 2021, Johnson & Johnson recalled the following five aerosol spray sunscreens:
- NEUTROGENA Beach Defense® aerosol sunscreen,
- NEUTROGENA Cool Dry Sport aerosol sunscreen,
- NEUTROGENA Invisible Daily™ defense aerosol sunscreen,
- NEUTROGENA Ultra Sheer® aerosol sunscreen, and
- AVEENO Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen.1
2. Why were they recalled?
The five recalled Johnson & Johnson sunblocks were found to contain the known carcinogen benzene. The amount of benzene found in these contaminated products exceeds the acceptable concentration limit.
This recall came seven weeks after the independent lab and online pharmacy Valisure filed a citizen petition with the FDA. Valisure alleges it discovered higher-than-acceptable concentrations of the cancer-causing chemical in 78 popular sunscreens from 69 manufacturers.
Valisure’s petition states:
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (“NIOSH”) recommends protective equipment be worn by workers expecting to be exposed to benzene at concentrations of 0.1 ppm [part per million] and defines “ inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion, skin and/or eye contact” as exposure routes. Valisure found multiple sunscreen products that contain levels of benzene that significantly surpass the 2 ppm conditional FDA restriction. Furthermore, benzene is associated with certain blood cancers such as leukemia, and recent studies by FDA researchers have shown that significant amounts of sunscreen ingredients absorb through the skin and are found in the blood; specifically, over 400 times the threshold for systemic carcinogenicity assessment for at least one sunscreen active ingredient.2
Therefore several popular sunblocks – which are marketed for the purposes of preventing skin cancer – contain benzene, itself a cancer-causing solvent with high toxicity.
3. What is benzene?
Benzene is a clear, flammable liquid used to make plastics, rubber, paints, and pesticides. A class 1 solvent according to the FDA, benzene also occurs naturally in crude oil and gasoline / petroleum.
Benzene exposure often comes from car exhaust, factory emissions, and cigarette smoke. Inhaling high doses of benzene may cause headaches, tremors, dizziness, and nausea, and possibly death. And liquid or vapor benzene that touches the skin can lead to irritation and blisters.
The federal agency OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) requires workplaces to give employees PPE (personal protective equipment) if they are exposed to higher-than-allowed benzene levels. And according to the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission), any product with 5% or more of benzene is hazardous.3
4. Can benzene cause cancer?
Yes. Long-term exposure to benzene can cause cancer, particularly the blood cell cancer leukemia. Benzene has been classified as a human carcinogen by the:
- International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO);
- National Toxicology Program (NTP); and
- U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA).
According to studies, workers exposed to high levels of benzene – usually through inhalation – are more likely to develop acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Other types of blood cancer include acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. (Note that benzene exposure can also cause aplastic anemia and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) – which is referred to as pre-leukemia.)
Meanwhile, an FDA Assessment (“Health Hazard Evaluation”) obtained through Consumer Reports indicates that the affected sunscreens contain benzene levels from five-to-12 times higher than the recommended limits. At these levels, serious adverse effects are “likely to occur” that could be life-threatening or permanently impairing.4
5. What are the symptoms of leukemia?
Leukemia symptoms include:
- Black and blue marks and petechiae
- Fever or chills
- Unintended weight loss
- Frequent or severe infections
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Enlarged liver or spleen
- Night sweats
- Bone pain
Leukemia patients typically develop anemia (low red blood cell count) as well as low white blood cells and low platelets.5
Users of the affected J&J sunblocks who suspect they may be experiencing leukemia symptoms are advised to contact their health care provider.
6. How much compensation can victims receive?
Victims who developed leukemia from Johnson & Johnson’s recalled Neutrogena and Aveeno sunblocks may be able to recover compensatory damages for:
- Medical bills, including for such cancer treatments as chemo, radiation, and surgery;
- Lost wages from being too sick to work;
- Loss of future earnings; and
- Pain and suffering
Should the case go to trial, the judge could also order that Johnson & Johnson pay punitive damages if it finds that the company knew about the problem long before the recall.
7. What is the current status of the Neutrogena sunscreen lawsuits?
The sunscreen class action lawsuit has just begun. The cases against Johnson & Johnson were just consolidated into a federal MDL (multi-district litigation) out of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida under Judge Anuraag Singhal. MDLs help to speed up the legal process. But unlike class actions lawsuits, the plaintiffs’ cases in MDLs remain separate.
Expected causes of action against Johnson & Johnson include the following strict liability, product liability, and negligence claims:
- Defective design
- Manufacturing defect
- Failure to warn / Improper warning labels
- Consumer fraud / Deceptive trade practices
- Negligence per se and gross negligence
- Fraudulent concealment
- Fraudulent misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation
- Breach of implied and express warranties
On May 25, 2021 – the day after Valisure filed its citizen petition – a class action was filed in federal court in Florida: Meredith Serota v. Neutrogena Corp. and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, No. 0:21-cv-61103 (S.D. FL.). It claims the companies broke both federal law and state consumer protection statutes by not listing benzene as an ingredient on the sunblocks’ label. The proposed class is anyone who bought an affected product in the U.S. (other than California) since May 25, 2017, even if they did not get sick.6 The complaint says:
Benzene, a known human carcinogen, is not on the FDA’s list of acceptable active or inactive ingredients for Sunscreen Products. Nor is benzene identified as an active or inactive ingredient on any of the Neutragena [sic] Sunscreen Products. Nevertheless, Defendants proclaim in their advertising that ‘Neutrogena maintains that the sunscreen ingredients we use are safe and effective . . .’, which is a false and misleading statement.”
And on July 14, 2021, a similar class-action lawsuit was filed in a federal court in California: Johanna Dominguez and Sharron Meijer et al. v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc., No. 3:21-CV-05419 (N.D. Cal.).7
Consumers can try to get a refund for their recalled sunscreen products by calling the J&J’s Consumer Care Center at 1-800-458-1673. But do not sign anything releasing J&J from liability.
8. What if I was diagnosed with leukemia after using a recalled sunblock?
Contact an attorney right away to discuss your claim. And be sure to preserve any evidence that you used the recalled products, such as the spray bottles themselves and any receipts or records of the purchases from retailers. You may qualify to be a plaintiff in a Neutrogena sunscreen lawsuit and receive compensation for your injuries.
- Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. Issues Voluntary Recall of Specific NEUTROGENA® and AVEENO® Aerosol Sunscreen Products Due to the Presence of Benzene, J&J Media Center (July 14, 2021)(done out of “an abundance of caution”); see also Johnson & Johnson is recalling sunscreens due to low levels of benzene, a carcinogen, CBS News (July 15, 2021); see also Sandee LaMotte, Sunscreen recall: What the finding of a cancer-causing chemical means for you, CNN (July 17, 2021); see also Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. Issues Voluntary Recall of Specific NEUTROGENA® and AVEENO® Aerosol Sunscreen Products Due to the Presence of Benzene, FDA (July 14, 2021).
- David Light, CEO, Valisure Citizen Petition on Benzene in Sunscreen and After-sun Care Products, Valisure (May 24, 2021); Valisure Detects Benzene in Sunscreen, Valisure (May 24, 2021) (“Benzene is one of the most studied and concerning human carcinogens known to science. Its association with forming blood cancers in humans has been shown in numerous studies at trace levels of parts per million and below. The presence of this known human carcinogen in products widely recommended for the prevention of skin cancer and that are regularly used by adults and children is very troubling,” said David Light, Founder and CEO of Valisure.). Valisure tested 294 batches from 69 brands that included both sprays and lotions with varying SPFs. Some of the other manufacturers and brands tested include CVS Health, Banana Boat, Fruit of the Earth, Sun Bum, Raw Elements, Goodsense, Coppertone and Walgreens. Fourteen batches contained benzene in amounts higher than 2.0 ppm (with 10 of those batches being Neutrogena sunscreens), and 26 batches contained between 0.1 to 2.0 ppm of benzene. (Valisure has also found benzene in various hand sanitizer products, which increased in sales during the coronavirus pandemic.)
- See note 2; Facts about Benzene, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- See note 3; see also Benzene, National Cancer Institute; see also Benzene and Cancer Risk, Cancer.org. Ryan Felton, FDA Withheld Information About the Safety Risks of Aveeno and Neutrogena Sunscreens Contaminated With Benzene, Consumer Reports (December 21, 2021).
- Leukemia, Mayo Clinic.
- Specifically, the proposed class action is for people who bought and used these Johnson & Johnson products: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Weightless Sunscreen Spray, SPF 100+ and SPF 70; Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Spray and SPF 45, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Water Resistant Sunscreen SPF 70, Neutrogena Beach Defense Oil-Free Body Sunscreen Spray – SPF 100, Neutrogena Beach Defense Spray Body Sunscreen SPF 50, Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Body Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 60+, Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray SPF 70 and SPF 50, and Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Face Sunscreen SPF 50. Note that another class action was filed in Florida, called Zapatero v. Energizer Holdings, Inc. et al., concerning the affected Banana Boat batches of sunscreen.
- Barbara Grzincic, Judicial panel consolidates Philips CPAP, J&J sunscreen litigation, Reuters (October 11, 2021). See also J&J, Costco settle lawsuits over recalled sunscreen, Reuters (November 2, 2021).