Does Dry Shampoo Contain Benzene?

blonde woman using dry shampoo spray

The Bottom Line

Dry shampoo products are designed to absorb excess hair oils, mask odors, and add volume to hair. Some dry shampoo products may contain the chemical benzene, most likely as a contaminant. Although benzene exposure is associated with dangerous health effects, there is no evidence that occasional dry shampoo use is harmful to humans.

man applying dry shampoo powder

What is benzene?

Benzene is a colorless liquid chemical that is found naturally in the environment in air, water, and soil. Natural sources of benzene include volcano smoke and fire fumes. Benzene is also present in tobacco smoke and motor vehicle exhaust, and is used to manufacture synthetic fibers, dyes, and plastic products. 

Is benzene a carcinogen?

Benzene is a known human carcinogen, and chronic exposure to benzene is associated with development of certain leukemias and other health problems. Short-term exposures to high levels of benzene can also cause drowsiness, headache, nausea, and other undesirable symptoms.

What everyday products contain benzene?

Benzene may be a contaminant of certain hand sanitizer products, body sprays, antiperspirants, dry shampoos, and sunscreens. Many of these affected products have already been recalled. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes the harmful effects of benzene and regulates its presence in pharmaceutical products. According to the FDA, benzene should generally not be used as in ingredient in pharmaceutical products due to its known toxicities. When benzene must be included in pharmaceutical preparations, its concentration should be less than 2 parts per million (ppm) according to the FDA. 

How does dry shampoo work?

Dry shampoo products contain inert substances, like corn or potato starch, that absorb hair oils, cover up hair odors, and provide volume. Dry shampoo products are available in aerosol and powder formulations. Aerosol dry shampoos are typically sprayed onto hair, while powdered products are sprayed or sprinkled on hair. After dry shampoo is applied to hair, the inert ingredients are then brushed or blow-dried away to reveal better looking and smelling hair. 

Is dry shampoo safe to use?

Dry shampoos often contain fragrances, preservatives, and surfactants that can cause allergic reactions, including contact dermatitis. Inhalation of dry shampoo may also cause lung irritation in susceptible individuals. When used in enclosed spaces, dry shampoo inhalation can result in coughing and breathing difficulties. 

Is benzene in dry shampoo?

In 2022, an evaluation by the independent testing laboratory Valisure revealed that more than 100 samples of dry shampoo contained detectable levels of benzene. The testing method involved spraying the dry shampoos in an enclosed area for 10 seconds, and then measuring the amount of benzene in the area. Samples of many commonly available and popular brands, including Not Your Mother’s, Sun Bum, OGX, Batiste, and Paul Mitchell, were found to contain elevated concentrations of benzene. Other samples from these same brands were not found to have benzene concentrations above the FDA limit of 2 ppm, which means that avoidance of certain brands of dry shampoo may not be effective in reducing benzene exposure.

Why is benzene in dry shampoo?

Benzene is likely an unintended contaminant of dry shampoo, and may be inadvertently introduced into dry shampoo products during the manufacturing process. Benzene is not a known ingredient of dry shampoos and has no role in absorbing hair oils or masking odors.

Is it dangerous to use dry shampoo that contains benzene?

Since benzene is associated with both acute and chronic health effects, including cancer, in humans, use of dry shampoo that contains benzene should be avoided. However, the use of dry shampoo has not been associated with adverse health effects in humans, and there is no evidence that occasional use of dry shampoo is harmful.

Was there a dry shampoo recall?

In October 2022, Unilever recalled certain dry shampoos, including products branded as Dove, Nexxus, Suave, TIGI, and TRESemme, due to the presence of benzene. Based on the results of its independent investigation in 2022, Valisure asked the FDA to also request a recall of additional dry shampoos that were found to have benzene contamination.

What do you do if someone inhales or swallows dry shampoo? 

If you or a loved one experience unwanted or unexpected symptoms after inhaling or swallowing dry shampoo, or if someone gets dry shampoo in his or her eyes, get guidance from Poison Control immediately. Help from Poison Control is available at www.poison.org and by phone at 1-800-222-1222. Both options are free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day. 

Kelly Johnson-Arbor, MD
Medical Toxicologist

For media inquiries, please contact Krista Osterthaler at osterthaler@poison.org.

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Talk to your doctor if you develop rashes, breathing problems, or other worrisome symptoms after using cosmetic products.
  • Read cosmetic product labels carefully, especially if you have sensitive skin. “Fragrance free” means that the product does not contain fragrances, while “unscented” products may contain fragrances that are designed to eliminate or mask odors.
  • Use dry shampoo in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhalation of powder or aerosol particles.

This Really Happened

In a study published in 2021, dermatologists at Northwestern University in Illinois evaluated 228 dry shampoo products sold at Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Target, Walgreens, and CVS Pharmacy, for the presence of chemicals that might cause allergic reactions. The doctors examined product labels for listed ingredients. The most common allergy-causing chemical found in the dry shampoos was “fragrance/parfum”, which was an ingredient in 95% of the products examined. Only four of the products examined did not contain fragrance, masking fragrance, or botanical ingredients that could contribute to fragrance.

For More Information

Independent lab finds ‘troubling’ levels of cancer-causing chemical in more types of dry shampoo products, report alleges (CNN Health)

Unilever Recalls Dry Shampoo Products in U.S. and Canada (New York Times)


References

ATSDR. Toxicological profile for benzene. Available at https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp3.pdf. Accessed November 3, 2022.

Consumer Product Information Database. What’s in it? Available at https://www.whatsinproducts.com/pages/database_search. Accessed November 3, 2022.

EPA. Safer choice: fragrance-free. Available at https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-10/documents/saferchoice-factsheet-fragrancefree_0.pdf. Accessed November 3, 2022.

FDA. Q3C- Tables and List Guidance for Industry. Available at https://www.fda.gov/media/133650/download. Accessed November 3, 2022.

Newell P, Liszewski W. Presence of Contact Allergens in Dry Shampoo Products. Dermatitis. 2021 Nov-Dec 01;32(6):e129-e131. 

Smith MT. Advances in understanding benzene health effects and susceptibility. Annu Rev Public Health. 2010;31:133-48 2 p following 148. 

Valisure. Valisure detects high levels of benzene in several dry shampoo products and requests FDA actions. Available at https://www.valisure.com/valisure-newsroom/valisure-detects-benzene-in-dry-shampoo. Accessed November 3, 2022.

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Talk to your doctor if you develop rashes, breathing problems, or other worrisome symptoms after using cosmetic products.
  • Read cosmetic product labels carefully, especially if you have sensitive skin. “Fragrance free” means that the product does not contain fragrances, while “unscented” products may contain fragrances that are designed to eliminate or mask odors.
  • Use dry shampoo in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhalation of powder or aerosol particles.

This Really Happened

In a study published in 2021, dermatologists at Northwestern University in Illinois evaluated 228 dry shampoo products sold at Ulta Beauty, Sephora, Target, Walgreens, and CVS Pharmacy, for the presence of chemicals that might cause allergic reactions. The doctors examined product labels for listed ingredients. The most common allergy-causing chemical found in the dry shampoos was “fragrance/parfum”, which was an ingredient in 95% of the products examined. Only four of the products examined did not contain fragrance, masking fragrance, or botanical ingredients that could contribute to fragrance.