Johnson & Johnson yanks Neutrogena and Aveeno spray sunscreens on carcinogen fears

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The discovery of carcinogens in various products has caused plenty of headaches in pharma over the last few years. (FDA)

Sunscreen offers one of the first lines of defense against skin cancer. Now, Johnson & Johnson's consumer health unit is recalling two popular brands on fears of contamination with a cancer-causing chemical. 

Citing "an abundance of caution," Johnson & Johnson is pulling all lots of five Neutrogena and Aveeno spray sunscreens after internal testing flagged low levels of benzene in certain samples. All products affected are aerosols, J&J said in a release. 

The human carcinogen benzene is unavoidable, J&J pointed out. People encounter the chemical daily in gasoline, cigarette smoke, pesticides, plastics and more. Benzene can be toxic if swallowed, touched or inhaled and may lead to cancer based on the level and extent of exposure. 

Benzene isn't an ingredient in any of J&J's sunscreens. The company says it's launched an investigation to suss out the cause of the contamination. 

RELATED: Marksans expands metformin recall as carcinogen contamination worries continue to grow

The benzene levels identified in J&J's review are unlikely to cause harm, the company said, citing exposure modeling and the Environmental Protection Agency’s framework. Still, J&J has directed customers to stop use and throw out any of the suspect products, which include the Neutrogena spray brands Beach Defense, Cool Dry Sport, Invisible Daily and Ultra Sheer, plus Aveeno Protect + Refresh. 

People should continue to apply other sunscreens, which J&J flagged as "critical to public health." Melanoma rates are rising worldwide, and the majority of cases stem from too much sun exposure, J&J said. 

“The health and safety of the people who use our products is our top priority," J&J said in a statement. "While the use of these products would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences," J&J says the "right decision" is to ask customers to stop using them.

RELATED: Sun Pharma the latest to recall metformin after carcinogen tests come up positive

Meanwhile, the detection of cancer-causing agents in various products has caused headaches for pharma companies in recent years. Look no further than the popular diabetes med metformin, which was subject to a spate of cross-company recalls in 2020 and 2021 after the FDA found the likely human cancer causer N-Nitrosodimethylamine in product samples.

The regulator initially pressed five companies—Apotex, Actavis, Amneal, Lupin and Marksans—to yank their extended-release metformin products from shelves. Lupin and Marksans expanded their recalls in July and October 2020, respectively, with Bayshore Pharmaceuticals, Sun Pharma and Nostrum Laboratories joining the recall parade in the following months. 

Further, Pfizer recently paused distribution of smoking cessation drug Chantix worldwide over concerns of nitrosamines that turned up in certain samples.