A New Study Found the Carcinogen Benzene In 59 Popular Deodorant and Antiperspirant Sprays

On the heels of the report, Procter & Gamble is recalling 18 of its Secret and Old Spice products. 

Benzen spray deodorant recall
Photo: Getty Images

Spray antiperspirants and deodorants are a sweat-free way to keep your pits dry and smelling like daises — without the white residue a traditional stick leaves on your clothes. But based on the findings of a new study, you may want to consider ditching that style of underarm refresher.

Last month, Valisure, a company that conducts batch tests of common consumer health products, released a report after analyzing 108 unique batches of antiperspirant and deodorant body spray products from 30 different brands. The findings: Nearly 55 percent contained benzene, a known carcinogen that can cause serious health effects with long-term exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And now, Procter & Gamble is voluntarily recalling 18 antiperspirant and deodorant sprays from its Secret and Old Spice brands — some of which were listed in the Valisure report — after internal testing also detected benzene, according to a November 23 press release.

Here's what you need to know about the carcinogen and the report — plus, how to find out if your go-to sweat stopper is affected.

What is benzene?

"Benzene is a chemical that, when activated with exposure to the skin, blood, or organs, can affect changes in your DNA that cause mutations for cancers," Madhuri Chadha, M.D., founder of Dr. Madh Skin Solutions and radiologist currently working in aesthetic dermatology previously told Shape. Specifically, long-term exposure (i.e. more than a year) to benzene is linked with cancers such as leukemia; a decrease in red blood cells, which may lead to anemia; irregular menstrual periods; and a decrease in the size of the ovaries, according to the CDC.

Due to the chemical's toxicity, the Food and Drug Administration currently lists it as a "Class 1 solvent," meaning it shouldn't be used to make drugs products (yes, antiperspirant is regulated as a drug), unless it's "unavoidable" in producing a good with "significant therapeutic advance." In those instances, benzene levels should be capped at 2 parts per million, according to the FDA. While many of the spray products Valisure tested didn't contain any detectable levels of benzene, other samples contained roughly nine times that FDA-recommended limit, per the report.

FTR, this isn't the first time benzene has been found in consumer products. Earlier this year, Valisure also found the carcinogen in 78 sunscreens — many of which were also sprays — prompting Johnson & Johnson to recall five of its aerosol sunscreens. And the propellants that are used in aerosol sunscreens and deodorants, such as butane and propane, could be to blame for the benzene contamination, David Light, chief executive officer of Valisure, told Bloomberg. "Butane is lighter fluid. Propane is the same thing you use to light your grill," he told the publication. "These gases come out of the ground, as benzene does as well. Benzene is a known contaminant of these products."

Which antiperspirant and deodorant sprays were found to contain benzene?

A handful of antiperspirant and deodorant sprays from popular brands, including Old Spice, Secret, Suave, Sure, Tag, and Equate, were found to have high amounts of benzene (read: more than 2 parts per million), according to Valisure's report. Others from Summer's Eve, Right Guard, and Victoria's Secret had "average concentrations" (or 0.10 to 2 parts per million) of the carcinogen, per the report.

So far, Procter & Gamble has been the only company to recall some of its antiperspirant and deodorant sprays following the Valisure report, according to CNN. Though the company stated it has "not received any reports of adverse events related to this recall" and its own assessments show daily exposure to the levels of benzene detected in the products "would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences," it is encouraging consumers to stop using the affected products "out of an abundance of caution."

The recall applies to all lots with expiration dates through September 2023 of the following products. To confirm if yours is affected, look for your Old Spice or Secret spray's product name, UPC code, and expiration date on Procter & Gamble's website.

  • Old Spice High Endurance AP Spray Pure Sport 12/6oz
  • Old Spice Hardest Working Collection Inv Spray Stronger Swagger 3.8oz
  • Old Spice Hardest Working Collection Inv Spray Pure Sport Plus 12/3.8oz
  • Old Spice Hardest Working Collection Inv Spray Stronger Swagger 12/3.8oz
  • Old Spice Hardest Working Collection Inv Spray Ult Captain 12/3.8oz
  • Old Spice Below Deck Powder Spray Unscented 12/4.9oz
  • Old Spice Below Deck Powder Spray Fresh Air 12/4.9oz
  • Secret Aerosol Powder Fresh Twin Pack
  • Secret Aerosol Powder Fresh 12/6oz
  • Secret Aerosol Powder Fresh 12/4oz
  • Secret Fresh Collection Inv Spray Waterlily 3.8oz
  • Secret Fresh Collection Inv Spray Lavender 12/3.8oz
  • Secret Fresh Collection Inv Spray Water Lily 12/3.8oz
  • Secret Fresh Collection Inv Spray Light Essentials 12/3.8oz
  • Secret Fresh Collection Inv Spray Rose 12/3.8oz
  • Secret Outlast Inv Spray Completely Clean 12/3.8oz
  • Secret Outlast Inv Spray Protecting Powder 12/3.8oz
  • Old Spice Pure Sport 2021 Gift Set


How did benzene end up in the antiperspirant and deodorant sprays?

Currently, it's not totally clear how the carcinogen ended up in the sprays, but it's likely not included intentionally. "We don't know the source of the benzene, but it could relate to how a particular ingredient was manufactured, where it was sourced, or how it moved through the supply chain," wrote Tod Cooperman, M.D., wrote in a review of the Valisure report for ConsumberLab.com. "It is more likely that the benzene arose from other ingredients in the products, such as butane, isobutane, or propane, which are propellants in sprays."

That said, Valisure is on a mission to ensure folks can apply their sweat-blockers without any worries. It's calling on the FDA to recall the contaminated batches and to "better define" the limits for benzene in drug and cosmetic products, according to the report. Until that day comes, ditch the affected Procter & Gamble products if you use them. And if the idea of coming in contact with even small amounts of the carcinogen is unsettling, consider switching to one of the products found to be benzene-free or follow in Lizzo's footsteps and go completely deodorant-free.

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