More than 1.5 million hair products have been recalled because of the detection of benzene, a chemical that is classified as a human carcinogen.
The products of concern are specific lots of Bed Head, TIGI, Dove and Tresemmé dry shampoo products that are in aerosol cans and have been purchased in the last two years.
“Immediately stop using the recalled product and dispose of it in accordance with the instructions for disposal on the packaging. Consumers may contact the company for reimbursement,” Health Canada said in an alert.
The products are distributed by Unilever Canada and manufactured by Voyant (previously Accra Pac, Inc.) in the United States, according to Health Canada. There were 1,574,426 units of the affected cans sold in Canada from January 2020 to October 2022. The recall products were distributed nationwide in Canada and the U.S. at retail stores and online.
Exposure to benzene can happen through inhalation or orally and can also be absorbed through your skin. Heavy exposure to the chemical has been shown to cause several types of cancer including leukemia. In fact, a study in The Lancet in 2021 analyzed human studies and confirmed a causal link between benzene exposure and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that begins in the lymphatic system disrupting immunity and leads to possible tumors.
In the Unilever recall statement linked to the alert , the company said it is recalling the products voluntarily out of “abundance of caution.”
Based on independent evaluation, Unilever said that daily exposure to benzene in the recalled products at the levels detected in testing are not expected to cause adverse health consequences. And as of Oct. 7, 2022, the company has received no reports of injuries in Canada related to the affected products.
This, and others like the December 2021 Procter & Gamble recall of more than 30 aerosol spray hair products over benzene exposure , is another wake-up call to the dangers of chemicals in personal and home care products. Environmental sustainability is not only a health issue, but on the radar as a business imperative to appeal to eco-conscious consumers, says consulting firm PwC . So we’ll likely see even more “natural” products on store shelves for alternative choices.
Benzene is everywhere
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ), benzene is widely used in manufacturing in the U.S. and ranks in the top 20 chemicals for production volume. It’s used in lubricants, rubbers, dyes, detergents and pesticides. Some industries use benzene to manufacture other chemicals like plastics, resins and synthetic fibres.
And while it’s made from both natural and human processes — natural sources of benzene can be found in volcanoes and forest fires — it’s also part of gasoline and cigarette smoke. So if you’re outside, especially in an urban area, you could be exposed to low levels of benzene in the air from vehicle exhaust, gas stations, industrial emissions and tobacco smoke, which is considered a major source of the chemical.
Inside air is also problematic because of products that contain benzene, like furniture wax, glues, paints and detergents.
Signs and symptoms of benzene exposure
If you’re breathing in high levels of benzene, symptoms can happen within minutes or a few hours and includes dizziness, fatigue, headaches, rapid or irregular heartbeat and confusion. Direct exposure to the skin, eyes or lungs can result in tissue irritation and injury.
If you are exposed to benzene released into the air, the CDC advises moving into fresh air by leaving the area where benzene was released. Check out the fact sheet for chemical emergencies . There’s also a pocket guide to chemical hazards .