STOCK dry shampoo
Recalled aerosol dry shampoo products are mainly which have been manufactured before October 2021. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Washington: Unilever Plc has recalled popular brands of aerosol dry shampoo, including Dove and Tresemmé after discovering they were contaminated with a chemical called benzene that can cause cancer. The company has recalled other brands as well such as Nexxus, Suave and Tigi which makes Rockaholic and Bed Head dry shampoos.

The recall is the most recent related to the rates of benzene contamination in various aerosol products, including some sunscreens and deodorants. Recalled products are mainly those which have been manufactured before October 2021.


Here’s all you need to know about the recall and the health risks associated with continued exposure to benzene.

What is dry shampoo and how does dry it works?

Dry shampoo is a powder or spray product that can be used to clean hair without having to wash the hair. These alcohol- or starch-based sprays provide volume to the hair while taking off grease and oils. Some dry shampoo have aerosol spray while some have tinted powder to match hair color.

As per Cleveland Clinic, when you spray the dry shampoo into your hair it soaks up the excess oil and grease in your hair, giving it a cleaner, fresher appearance. It's important to note that the "shampoo" part is a bit confusing, as dry shampoo does not actually clean your hair. You will need wet shampoo and water for this.

Which dry shampoos are being recalled?

Unilever has issued a voluntary recall for aerosol dry shampoos produced before October 2021 under the brands Bed Head, Dove, Nexxus, Suave, Rockaholic and TRESemme in the United States.

The company said in a statement that it hasn't learned of any "adverse events" relating to the products in the recall and that an "independent health hazard evaluation" found that daily exposure to benzene in the recalled products is not expected to cause health problems. The company is offering refunds for the specific products, which can be found here.

Recalled products are mainly those which have been manufactured before October 2021. The reports said that the move had raised questions about safety of aerosol in person hygiene products.

Here is the complete list of the Unilever affected products produced prior to October 2021:
Dove Dry Shampoo Volume and Fullness
Dove Dry Shampoo Fresh Coconut
Dove Dry Shampoo Fresh and Floral
Dove Dry Shampoo Ultra Clean
Dove Dry Shampoo Invisible,
Dove Dry Shampoo Detox and Purify,
Dove Dry Shampoo Clarifying Charcoal
Dove Dry Shampoo Go Active
Nexxus Dry Shampoo Refreshing Mist
Nexxus Inergy Foam Shampoo
Suave Dry Shampoo Hair Refresher
Suave Professionals Dry Shampoo Refresh and Revive,
Tresemme Dry Shampoo Volumising
Tresemme Dry Shampoo Fresh and Clean
Tresemme Pro Pure Dry Shampoo
Bed Head Oh Bee Hive Dry Shampoo
Bed Head Oh Bee Hive Volumizing Dry Shampoo
Bed Head Dirty Secret Dry Shampoo
Bed Head Rockaholic Dirty Secret Dry Shampoo

Other aerosol content products recalled earlier:

Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena
Edgewell Personal Care Co.’s Banana Boat
Beiersdorf AG’s Coppertone along with spray-on antiperspirants like Procter & Gamble Co.’s Secret, Old Spice and Unilever’s Suave

What is benzene?

Benzene is a colorless or light yellow liquid that smells sweet and is highly flammable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency says it's one of the top 20 chemicals used in the United States. It is a "building block" for other chemicals and materials, according to the American Chemistry Council.

Benzene is commonly found in crude oil, according to the CDC. Companies use benzene to make plastics, resins, nylon and synthetic fibers, as well as some lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides.

Experts say that we're exposed to benzene every day in the air we breathe, especially when we fill our vehicles at the gas station. Benzene also is in certain cigarettes, detergents, glues and paints.

How does benzene end up in your dry shampoo?

Unilever said that the propellant in the spray cans of the dry shampoo was the source of the benzene and that it is working with suppliers to address the issue.

Chris Cappa, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of California at Davis, said butane, a petroleum product, is a common propellant in spray cans. If the refinement process of butane "isn't very good," then you can end up with gas that contains other components from the crude oil, such as benzene. "That gas is where, most likely, this benzene is coming from," Cappa said.

"If you want to limit the potential exposure to things like benzene from contaminated spray cans, then you can make different choices about the products that you use," he said.

Cappa said he's less concerned about using a spray can of sunscreen outside vs. an aerosolized dry shampoo inside because the benzene will dissolve into the wider atmosphere and limit the risk of a high level of benzene exposure.

Is benzene harmful to humans?

Breathing in, digesting or otherwise absorbing benzene over long periods of time can lead to serious health issues, including cancers such as leukemia and other blood disorders, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Benzene can slow down the amount of red blood cells produced by the bone marrow, leading to anemia, the CDC says. It can also damage the body's immune system by changing the blood levels of antibodies. People who breathe in high levels of benzene can become drowsy, dizzy and confused, and have headaches, an irregular heartbeat and tremors.

High levels of benzene can lead to vomiting, dizziness, sleepiness and convulsions. Direct exposure to benzene to the eyes, skin or lungs can damage the tissue and lead to irritation. Some women exposed to high levels of benzene had irregular menstrual periods and a decreased size of their ovaries. "It is not known whether benzene exposure affects the developing fetus in pregnant women or fertility in men," the CDC says.

Kelly Dobos, a cosmetic chemist and adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, said that benzene is "certainly dangerous" but we are exposed to the chemical every day and that the levels of contamination in these cosmetic products tend to be in the tens of parts per million. "It's a trace contaminant," Dobos said. "The cosmetic companies have toxicologists on staff. They do extensive research to ensure their products are safe."

If you're going to use an aerosol product, Dobos said, do so in a well-ventilated area, with a window open.

STOCK dry shampoo
Direct exposure to benzene to the eyes, skin or lungs can damage the tissue and lead to irritation.

What other products contain benzene?

Aerosolised versions of conditioners, deodorants, antifungal deodorants and sunscreens have all been recalled in the past two years over possible benzene contamination.

Procter & Gamble last year recalled more than 30 aerosolized hair-care products, including dry shampoos and conditioners, warning that they contain high levels of trace benzene. The company issued a similar recall of more than a dozen Old Spice and Secret-branded aerosol deodorants, as well.

Homer Swei, a senior vice president at the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, said the supply chain of the propellants, the butane or propane fuel for the spray cans, must be affected to have these high levels of benzene in each of the aerosol products.

Benzene is carcinogenic, he said, but the duration or level of exposure required to cause these health issues is not known. Benzene comes from several sources so it's hard to "account for all these different types of exposure," Swei said. People need to "avoid using these aerosols until the industry can fix these problems in the supply chain," he said.