Christopher Bunick, MD, PhD: Following Up on Benzene Exposure Risk

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After the announced recall of dry shampoo products by Unilever this month, dermatologists anticipate an uptick in patient concerns.

Unilever’s recent voluntary recall of 19 dry shampoo products due to increased risk of high benzene exposure has sparked consumer concern and, in some cases, outcries from health experts who have observed patterns of such issues recently recurring within US self-care products.

How clinicians should continue to navigate these observed benzene exposure risks with their patients would be to consider the perspective of both those consumers and experts alike.

In the second segment of an interview with HCPLive regarding the Unilever dry shampoo recall, Christopher Bunick, MD, PhD, associate professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, shared opinion on how to address patient-level concerns over benzene exposure. He used the previous recall of Johnson & Johnson sunscreen products—for a similarly observed risks more than a year ago.

“With regard to sunscreens, what I have been telling my patients over the last year and a half, is that not all sunscreens were contaminated in this study with benzene,” Bunick said. “There are some safe benzenes. We know that sunscreen use is absolutely essential to protect against skin cancer.”

Bunick said it’s critical to ensure potentially exposed or high-risk patients have access to internet, and toencourage them to refer to previously published data on products that were contaminated to ensure future safety.

Broadly speaking, Bunick said, aerosol-based items appear to be “the highest-risk products known at the moment.”

“It does seem that the propellant that is used in the manufacturing of these aerosols seems to be one of the major sources of contamination, and that’s why we’re seeing a lot of aerosol products with this problem,” he explained. “If you’re generally concerned about this issue—if you feel that you don’t want use these products, that they’re not safe—then I would recommend you avoid aerosol-based products that have not been already studied independent and proven to be safe…until the entire manufacturing industry can figure out why is it our supply chains are so contaminated with benzene.”

Unfortunately, the questions being echoed by Bunick and other health experts on the status of manufacture-borne benzene risks is pending internal investigations—and such information must be made available by impacted companies and the FDA.

“In my opinion, it should be weeks, but I fear it could be months to years,” Bunick said. “Unfortunately, these things move too slow, but my hope is that after the fifth major personal hygiene care product has been recalled…I think the FDA needs to step in and say there is a problem here and we need to address it.”