Last year, I struggled with frequent breakouts and tried various products without success. Eventually, I decided to give a dermatologist-recommended acne foaming wash with 10% benzoyl peroxide a shot, a product that has gained popularity on TikTok.

This highly praised acne cleanser worked wonders for my skin, and I even used it this morning. However, I may have to stop using it altogether forever…

A recent study has raised concerns about benzene levels in some acne products containing benzoyl peroxide, linking this chemical to cancer.

This discovery follows similar findings in other everyday products such as sunscreens, hand sanitisers, and dry shampoos.

Is it fearmongering or should we be concerned about the acne products in our vanity?

If you’ve been slathering on products with benzoyl peroxide to your faces like me, read on to see if continuing is a risk worth taking.

Popular Acne Treatments Under Fire for Potential Cancer Link

Credit: Valisure, Bloomberg

Valisure LLC, an independent U.S. testing laboratory, has recently filed a petition with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealing that popular acne products from brands such as Proactiv, Estee Lauder’s Clinique, Target Corp.’s Up & Up, and Reckitt Benckiser-owned Clearasil contain alarming levels of a carcinogen.

This revelation has understandably led to demands for an official investigation and potential recall of these affected acne products, all of which contain the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide.

For those unfamiliar with the matter, benzene is a naturally occurring component found in gasoline and tobacco smoke. Research conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that high levels of benzene can lead to conditions like leukemia.

This discovery of benzene in popular consumer goods over the past three years has raised concerns about product safety and the effectiveness of FDA regulations.

As a result, major companies such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and Procter & Gamble have been compelled to recall products that contain this hidden danger.


A new #report links a possible carcinogen to several popular skin creams. But consumer groups and companies say the products are safe. David Muir reports. #WorldNewsTonight #DavidMuir #News #skincare

♬ original sound – ABC World News Tonight

Valisure, headquartered in New Haven, Connecticut, has a history of exposing product safety concerns and is recognised as a consumer watchdog of sorts.

The lab has positioned itself as a guardian for consumers through product investigations and collaborations with prominent healthcare organizations such as Kaiser Permanente and the US Department of Defense to evaluate medications used by their members and detect inferior treatments.

Following Valisure’s request, the FDA assured that it would validate the accuracy of the information before taking any measures.

Jeremy Kahn, an FDA representative, stressed that the agency would keep the public informed about benzene in pharmaceuticals as needed. He reiterated that companies have a responsibility to guarantee the safety of their products.

Related read: These Products Containing Steroids and Weight Loss Medicine Are Banned in Singapore and Caused Serious Health Issues for Consumers

The “Truth” Uncovered by Valisure?

acne benzoyl peroxide products, benzene risk

Credit: Valisure

Valisure analysed acne products containing benzoyl peroxide, such as creams, lotions, gels, and washes, by testing a total of 66 items available for purchase without a prescription or with one.

Although the FDA allows for benzene levels of up to two parts per million, Valisure discovered that certain treatments had levels up to nine times higher.

These levels spiked significantly when subjected to stability testing at elevated temperatures, mimicking potential degradation in storage conditions like a humid bathroom.

It may be wise to reconsider storing your acne treatments in places prone to extreme heat, such as cars, kitchens, bathrooms, or any location that could lead to a substantial rise in temperature.


Now that #benzene has been found in #acne treatments, is my cream safe? Bloomberg’s Anna Edney breaks down the findings. #chemicals #valisure #fda #regulation #skincare

♬ original sound – Bloomberg Business

David Light, President of Valisure, highlighted that benzoyl peroxide contamination occurs due to its breakdown and the formation of benzene.

“The benzene we found in sunscreens and other consumer products were impurities that came from contaminated ingredients; however, the benzene in benzoyl peroxide products is coming from the benzoyl peroxide itself,” David revealed.

During Valisure’s stability testing, Proactiv’s 2.5% benzoyl peroxide cream, made by Taro Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., contained up to 1,761 parts per million of benzene.

Similarly, a cream from Target reached 1,598 parts per million, and a treatment from Estee Lauder Cos.’s Clinique had 401 parts per million.

While a 10% benzoyl peroxide cream from Reckitt Benckiser Group Plc’s Clearasil initially met the FDA limit, it rose to 308 parts per million of benzene after exposure to high temperatures for over two weeks.


🚨Are you still using benzoyl peroxide to treat your acne?…Recent studies have found alarming levels of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, in products with benzoyl peroxide! 😱 #acnetok #skincarenews #benzene #cancerchemical #dermatology #benzoylperoxide #acnetreatment #bpo #dermatologytimes #dermpa #benzenecancer #acnetips #carcinogen #fda #phin #phinskin #skintok #acnecommunity

♬ sonido original – Britney Spears 💋✨💅🏼

What’s worse, acne products with benzoyl peroxide can even affect the air you breathe in!

Valisure’s investigation found that even an unopened Proactiv product discharged high levels of benzene when exposed to 40 degrees Celsius (comparable to the heat of a hot shower) for nearly 17 hours.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, chronic inhalation of benzene at levels of 0.4 parts per billion throughout a lifetime could lead to an additional cancer case per 100,000 individuals, a risk measure also employed by the FDA.

How the Brands Responded

In a statement, Reckitt said that they are “confident that all Clearasil products, when used and stored as directed on their labels, are safe”. Although the company assures that the safety and quality of products are their top priority, they did not react to whether they had tested their acne cream for benzene.

Meanwhile, Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. is reviewing Valisure’s petition and will work with their suppliers to follow FDA regulations and guidelines for Walgreens branded products.

Taro Pharmaceuticals and Estee Lauder representatives did not provide comments upon request, while Target declined to issue a statement.

Following the news, Reckitt’s shares declined by 2% and Unilever’s by 0.4% in London, with Estee Lauder dropping 1.3% and Taro tumbling 2.4% at the close in New York.

What Does This Mean for the Skincare Industry?

acne benzoyl peroxide products, benzene risk

Credit: Depositphotos

Acne is one of the most common skin problems among adolescents. Even though acne commonly occurs in teenagers, it can persist or pop up for the first time in adulthood as well, especially in hot and humid climates that can cause clogged pores and acne woes.

The U.S., the American Academy of Dermatology reported that acne affects as many as 50 million people each year.

In an international Asia-Pacific Anti-Acne Cosmetics market report on Data Bridge Market Research (DBMR), the market is expected to grow in the forecast period of 2021 to 2028. It’s anticipated to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.5% during this period, with the potential to reach USD 2,808.49 million by 2028, up from USD 1,263.20 million in 2020.


My derm saved me w this product and now its recalled please tell me what can I use now #hs #hidradenitissuppurativa #cysticacne


However, with news of a cancer-causing chemical that may be linked to many acne products, this growth rate may very well be stunted, especially when the AAD guidelines name benzoyl peroxide as one of its top recommendations for treating acne topically.

Brands may also be forced to remove any of their products containing benzoyl peroxide off the shelves regardless if they’ve done tests or prove to be safe.

In 2022, after Valisure’s previous benzene discoveries, the FDA cautioned companies to evaluate the risk of benzene formation in their products. The agency does not routinely test the products it regulates.

US Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, expressed: “The discovery made by Valisure regarding benzoyl peroxide acne treatment products is deeply troubling and gives renewed importance to the need to empower the FDA to immediately act once we are made aware of the dangers of prescription or over-the-counter drugs.”.

“Benzoyl peroxide products saturate the current market and millions of consumers are unknowingly using a product that increases their exposure to life-threatening carcinogens,” she added.

Related read: These Two Local Beauty Products Are on the Ministry of Health’s Banned List – Are You Using Them?

The Internet’s Reaction: What Are Experts Saying?

First, don’t panic! The widespread coverage by media on this benzene topic is actually rather misleading and not as scary as it’s being portrayed.

Chem PhD and cosmetic chemist Dr Michelle Wong, who also covered the benzene in sunscreen issue back in 2022, went on TikTok to explain and impart her expert knowledge on the matter.


#stitch with @banuskin | acne resources The news about benzene in benzoyl peroxide acne products isn’t actually that scary – it’s just framed in a really misleading way IMO #benzene #benzoylperoxide #acnetreatment #acneskin #mythbusting #benzenerecall #dermtok #dermtips #breakingnews #acne

♬ original sound – Lab Muffin Beauty Science

Dr Michelle felt that Valisure’s tests were “super questionable” — so much so that toxicologists said the company scared people unnecessarily.

One of Valisure’s tests was based on the conditions of leaving your “benzoyl peroxide in the car and the sun doesn’t set for 18 days during a heat wave”.

Many netizens have voiced out how unrealistic the tests were which doesn’t really help with proving the safety of products with benzoyl peroxide.

Plus, she looked into the papers cited by Valisure and found that there were some discrepancies or that the data didn’t align and support their claims.


How much benzene is in benzoyl peroxide acne products at normal temperatures, according to the Valisure report? Not enough to freak out about IMO #benzoylperoxide #skincareingredients #benzene #acnetreatment #skintok #nontoxic

♬ original sound – Lab Muffin Beauty Science

In another TikTok video, she said that “it’s less scary than some people are making it sound” as benzene is all around us in petrol, paints, furniture, and natural gas.

Here’s the kicker — we breathe in benzene all the time when we cook, fill up our car, or simply when we’re just breathing at home. Even so, Dr Michelle noted that the vast majority of us don’t end up with benzene-related cancers.

“Obviously, reducing benzene is a good idea. I’m guessing there might be some recalls soon but there is really no need to freak out. Benzoyl peroxide has been used for acne for 60 years and there’s no recorded increased cancer in people who use it,” Dr Michelle assured.

Dr Muneeb Shah, dermatologist and founder of Remedy Science®, has posted a summary with regards to the issue on Instagram.

He mentioned how Valisure was the same lab that came under scrutiny by the FDA for their testing practices last year during the “benzene in sunscreen saga”.

At the time, he questioned the lab’s motives and shared that they profit from testing products for “safety” and contaminants.

Related read: Shocking Photos That Prove Sunscreen Should Be Your New Best Friend

What Should We Do Next?

acne benzoyl peroxide products, benzene risk

Credit: Depositphotos

First and foremost, since we’re still awaiting news and final reports from the FDA, it’s crucial that we keep ourselves updated on the issue at hand by turning on notifications from relevant and official accounts or researching about it from time to time.

If you tend to err on the side of caution like Dr Shah, cease using your benzoyl peroxide acne products for now especially if it’s on the list of affected products. You can never be too safe!

In the meantime, switch to a different ingredient to treat acne like sulfur, salicylic acid, and adapalene.

Next, if you choose to continue using benzoyl peroxide products, Dr Shah recommends storing them in a cool place to avoid excessive heat exposure. Maybe it’s time to invest in a skincare fridge?

For those of us residing in tropical countries, we’d urge you to stop using these products first as we can’t be too sure how hot our bathrooms can get on our hottest days.

“If you’ve already been using it for a while, no need to panic. What’s done is done and benzoyl peroxide use has still never been linked to cancer in humans,” he added.

See the list of affected products here, as reported by Dermatology Times.

Other than that, the rule of thumb is to always stay vigilant and be aware of what you’re consuming or putting onto your face.

After all, we only have one face and body so let’s take real good care of it — it’s really not a time (or ever, really) to be “YOLO” about it!

Related read: Europe Implements Restrictions on Retinol Products – What Does This Mean for Us?

Featured image credit: @labmuffinbeautyscience/TikTok, @phinskin/TikTok, @sweetskinbyari/TikTok

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