Skip to Content

Why was Neutrogena sunscreen recall?

In July 2021, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. issued a voluntary recall of five Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen products due to the presence of benzene, a known cancer-causing chemical, in some samples. This raised concerns among consumers who had been using these popular sunscreen brands. The recall covered specific lots of Neutrogena Beach Defense, Neutrogena CoolDry Sport, Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense, Neutrogena UltraSheer, and Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreens. Here is a closer look at why the Neutrogena sunscreen recall happened and what consumers need to know.

What prompted the Neutrogena sunscreen recall?

Johnson & Johnson initiated the voluntary recall after testing identified low levels of benzene in some samples of the aerosol sunscreen products. Benzene is classified as a human carcinogen, meaning it can potentially cause cancer with repeated exposure at high enough concentrations. The company said it was investigating how the benzene got into the affected sunscreen products. Even though the levels detected were not expected to be harmful based on daily exposure from sunscreen use, Johnson & Johnson opted to recall the products out of caution.

Which Neutrogena sunscreen products were recalled?

The following aerosol spray sunscreens from Neutrogena and Aveeno were part of the July 2021 voluntary recall:

Brand Product Name
Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen
Neutrogena CoolDry Sport aerosol sunscreen
Neutrogena Invisible DailyTM defense aerosol sunscreen
Neutrogena UltraSheer® aerosol sunscreen
Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen

The recall only included specific production lots of these aerosol sunscreens. The lot numbers can be found on the bottom of the cans. Consumers were advised to stop using and appropriately discard the sunscreens from the identified lots.

What levels of benzene were found?

According to the recall notice, benzene levels ranging from trace amounts to around 3 parts per million (ppm) were detected in product samples. For context, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits benzene to 2 ppm in drinking water due to its potential health risks. However, there are currently no FDA standards limiting benzene specifically in sunscreens or other cosmetics.

The highest benzene levels found in the tested Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreens were still considered safe for daily exposure. But the discovery of any benzene, along with uncertainty over how it got into the products, prompted the voluntary recalls.

What are the health risks of benzene?

Benzene is a known human carcinogen that can lead to cancer and other serious health conditions with significant exposure over time. The primary risk factors are:

  • Amount of benzene exposed to
  • Length of exposure time
  • Route of exposure – inhalation, ingestion, skin absorption

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), brief exposure to low concentrations of benzene is not expected to result in health risks. However, chronic exposure to high benzene levels through inhalation, which occurs primarily in occupational settings, increases risks of:

  • Bone marrow failure
  • Leukemia
  • Blood cancers like lymphoma
  • Anemia
  • Excess bleeding

There is less data on the effects of chronic ingestion or skin absorption of lower benzene levels. But all routes of repeated exposure pose some cancer risk. The trace amounts occasionally absorbed through sunscreen use are not thought to be a health hazard. But due to uncertainty over safe limits and how the benzene got introduced, Neutrogena and Aveeno opted for recalls.

Were other sunscreen brands affected?

As of October 2022, Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreens were the only brands that had been recalled over benzene concerns. Johnson & Johnson said testing did not detect benzene in batches of its other sunscreen products like Neutrogena liquid formulas, baby sunscreens, and Aveeno lotions and sticks.

Some other sunscreen makers like CVS Health and Old Spice also did precautionary testing. None had found benzene levels requiring recalls as of late 2022. There is no evidence that benzene contamination is an industry-wide problem. The Neutrogena recall appears to be an isolated manufacturing issue.

Is spray or aerosol sunscreen less safe overall?

The short answer is no. The Neutrogena recall does not mean spray or aerosol sunscreen formulations are inherently less safe or effective. When made properly, experts agree aerosol sunscreens provide the same UV protection as lotions, creams and other formats. The delivery method does not impact the safety or quality of the ingredients themselves.

That said, there are general usage concerns with aerosol sunscreens:

  • Inhalation risk if sprayed near face
  • Skin irritation if accidentally inhaled
  • Difficulty ensuring proper coverage
  • Easy to miss spots
  • Harder to adequately apply to children

When used correctly by adults, aerosol sunscreens are reliable options. But other formats may be preferable for kids. Overall, the Neutrogena recall does not suggest any added risks inherent to spray sunscreens versus other types when manufactured properly without contamination issues.

Should I stop using aerosol sunscreen products?

Most experts say there is no need to altogether avoid aerosol sunscreens as a category. Specific brands and products not impacted by recalls remain safe to use based on current evidence. The chance of benzene contamination seems limited to the affected Neutrogena and Aveeno lots.

However, consumers may opt for sunscreen in lotion, stick or other formats for general ease of use and to avoid any inhalation risks associated with sprays. Those with sensitivities or breathing issues should especially take caution using spray sunscreens. When applied carefully and avoided around the face, aerosol sunscreens remain effective options providing the same protection as other formulas. But spray sunscreens require more careful use.

How did benzene get into Neutrogena sunscreens?

The source of the benzene contamination in Neutrogena aerosol sunscreens remains under investigation in October 2022. Johnson & Johnson said it is working to pinpoint where and how the chemical made its way into the affected lots.

Potential ways benzene could inadvertently get introduced include:

  • Raw ingredients contaminated during manufacturing
  • Improper cleaning of equipment leading to chemical cross-contamination
  • Quality control issues allowing benzene slipping through
  • Problems with the aerosol can propellants
  • Packaging issues allowing benzene to enter formulas

The company will likely review its entire sunscreen production process to identify where quality controls failed and allowed benzene in. Stricter ingredient testing and manufacturing precautions will be added to prevent similar issues going forward.

Has Neutrogena improved quality control?

In its recall notice, Johnson & Johnson stated that it “has taken precautionary measures to ensure the sunscreen products it currently sells are safe for use” since the contamination was discovered. The company likely reviewed and amended its quality control processes related to:

  • Ingredient sourcing and testing
  • Manufacturing equipment cleaning procedures
  • Product batch testing before distribution
  • Aerosol can filling and sealing

Enhanced supplier audits, more frequent equipment sanitation, larger in-line sample testing, and tighter limits on benzene detected may be implemented. While some contamination risks can never be fully eliminated, improved quality controls can minimize their likelihood.

Can I get a refund for my recalled sunscreen?

Yes, consumers can receive a refund for any recalled aerosol sunscreen products they purchased. To get reimbursement, you should:

  1. Stop using the sunscreen immediately
  2. Dispose of the product properly
  3. Have the lot number and UPC barcode handy
  4. Call the refund hotline or submit a claim online
  5. Upload photo of receipt or enter product info
  6. A refund will be issued once claim approved

Details for the refund process can be found at or Consumers can also call toll-free hotlines at 1-800-458-1673 for Neutrogena or 1-800-291-9167 for Aveeno. Refunds take approximately 2-3 weeks via prepaid card or credit.

What should I do if I was affected?

If you have one of the recalled Neutrogena or Aveeno sunscreen products, the FDA recommends:

  • Stop using it immediately.
  • Follow instructions to securely dispose of it.
  • Consult your doctor if you have any health concerns related to using the sunscreen.
  • Submit a claim for a refund if you want reimbursement.
  • Consider switching to a sunscreen from another brand not impacted by the recall.

Reporting any adverse health effects to the FDA is also recommended. But significant health impacts are unlikely due to the very low levels of benzene detected. Those affected simply need to safely stop using the sunscreens and get a refund if desired.

What sunscreen options are not affected?

There are plenty of safe sunscreen alternatives consumers can switch to:

  • Neutrogena sunscreens outside the 5 recalled products
  • Aveeno sunscreens besides the recalled aerosol
  • All sunscreens from other trusted brands like Coppertone, Banana Boat, La Roche-Posay, EltaMD, Supergoop, Hawaiian Tropic, and many more
  • Sunscreens in formats like lotions, creams, gels, sticks, and powders
  • Sunscreens featuring various protection ingredients like zinc oxide or avobenzone
  • Wide range of SPF levels from 15 to 100+

As long as other aerosol sunscreens are not from a recalled batch, they remain safe options. But those concerned may opt for lotion or other formats for extra assurance.


The Neutrogena sunscreen recall was an isolated incident stemming from quality control issues that allowed trace benzene into some products. It does not imply spray sunscreens are fundamentally hazardous or that other brands have issues. Consumers can continue using sunscreens safely by avoiding the specific Neutrogena and Aveeno products identified and getting refunds if they purchased the affected lots. With improved manufacturing checks in place, the chance of similar contaminations occurring is low. While concerning, this event should not prevent people from protecting themselves using readily available safe sunscreens.