J&J Hit With Class Action Over Benzene in Acne Products

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April 1, 2024

by Brian Eckert

Johnson & Johnson acne treatments made with benzoyl peroxide and sold under the Neutrogena brand are alleged to contain the carcinogen benzene in a Milberg class action lawsuit.

Anyone who purchased certain Neutrogena cream and gel products may be eligible to join this lawsuit as a class member and recover compensation.

Which Neutrogena Products are Affected?

According to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the following products containing the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide (BPO) are at issue:

  • Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Gel (10% BPO gel)
  • Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment (2.5% BPO cream)
  • Neutrogena Stubborn Acne AM Treatment (2.5% BPO cream)
  • Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask (3.5% BPO cream)
  • Clean & Clear (10% BPO gel)

This list is not necessarily exhaustive. The lawsuit leaves open the possibility that more products could be added as Milberg’s investigation continues.

How Was The Benzene Discovered?

Independent quality assurance laboratory Valisure conducted testing of BPO acne treatments, including those sold by J&J with the brand name Neutrogena, that revealed benzene levels exceeding FDA limits.

The FDA considers BPO a drug product and, where the use of benzene is “unavoidable” to create a drug product with a “significant therapeutic advance,” FDA restricts its levels to 2 parts per million (ppm).

The benzene in benzoyl peroxide products is coming from the benzoyl peroxide itself, sometimes at hundreds of times the conditional FDA limit.

However, in a petition to the FDA calling for an investigation and recall of BPO-containing acne treatments, Valisure notes that these products do not appear to meet this criteria, and therefore, “any significant detection of benzene should be deemed unacceptable.”

Some of the BPO products tested were found to have benzene levels over 800 times the FDA concentration limit of 2 ppm. And when exposed to heat, many of them showed high benzene levels in the surrounding air.

Valisure tested 175 acne treatments, 99 containing BPO and 76 made without BPO. All 76 non-BPO treatments had either no detectable benzene or benzene values below 2 ppm, while 94 of 99 BPO products contained benzene. The available evidence suggests that this problem applies broadly to BPO products currently on the market, writes Valisure.

Why is There Benzene in Neutrogena BPO Gels and Creams?

Benzene has previously been found in consumer products like sunscreen, antiperspirant deodorant, dry shampoo, and hand sanitizer. While the benzene in these products was attributed to contaminated ingredients, in the case of BPO acne treatments, the benzene appears to result from the inherent instability of BPO, which can degrade into benzene.

BPO instability and decomposition is well documented. Other industries have studied and attempted to address it. And though the issue may ultimately be fixable in BPO products, Valisure maintains that “urgent action” is needed at this time.

What’s the Problem With Benzene?

Widely used as an industrial solvent, benzene is a known human carcinogen that can cause blood cancers such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Exposure to benzene is also associated with neurologic, immunologic, and reproductive/developmental effects.

A 2010 review of benzene research concluded that, “There is probably no safe level of exposure to benzene, and all exposures constitute some risk.”

Benzene in consumer products also raises legal issues when manufacturers do not list it on labeling and in marketing materials.

Milberg argues that J&J misrepresents its BPO acne treatment because it omits benzene as an ingredient. These products are not designed to contain benzene, and the presence of benzene is not “unavoidable.” Thus, their benzene content renders them adulterated, misbranded, and illegal to sell—and ultimately worthless to the consumers who purchased them.

Who Can Join the Lawsuit?

Lead plaintiff Samvardhan Vishnoi regularly bought Neutrogena Stubborn Acne AM Treatment (2.5% BPO cream) from his local Target store, relying on product labels and disclosures to make his purchase decision. He maintains that he would not have purchased the acne cream had it been accurately represented as containing, or at risk of containing, benzene.

Vishnoi seeks to represent the following classes of individuals:

  • All persons in the U.S. who purchased Neutrogena brand acne cream and gel products containing benzoyl peroxide.
  • A subclass of class members who purchased the products in Illinois.
  • A subclass of class members who purchased the products in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, or Washington

The lawsuit cites violations of state consumer fraud statutes and requests damages that include compensatory, statutory, and punitive damage, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. Gary KlingerNick Suciu IIIJ. Hunter Bryson, and Luis Cardona of Milberg are representing the plaintiff and class members.

Milberg: A National Leader in Consumer Class Action Litigation

Milberg attorneys recently filed a lawsuit alleging that Walmart Equate brand BPO products contain benzene. In March, a judge gave preliminary approval to a $2 million class action settlement resolving claims over benzene in Suave antiperspirant deodorant. We are additionally involved in a class action over the alleged false labeling of J&J/Neutrogena “preservative-free” shampoo.

Since 1965, Milberg has filed thousands of class action lawsuits, recovered billions of dollars for our clients, and used litigation to protect consumers’ health, safety, and finances.