Walmart Equate Brand Acne Products Alleged to Contain Benzene

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March 25, 2024

by Brian Eckert

Walmart’s Equate brand acne cream and gel products made with benzoyl peroxide contain the carcinogen benzene, rendering them adulterated, misbranded, and illegal to sell, according to a class action complaint filed by Milberg attorneys in Illinois federal court.

Anyone who purchased benzoyl peroxide-based Equate acne treatments may be eligible to join this lawsuit as a class member and recover compensation.

Independent Lab Testing Discovers Benzene in Acne Treatments

Quality assurance testing lab Valisure recently analyzed benzoyl peroxide (BPO) acne treatments and found that 94 of 95 on-market BPO products tested, including Equate 10% BPO cream, have benzene levels that exceed FDA concentration limits of 2 parts per million.

Valisure detected unacceptably high benzene levels not only in the BPO products, but also in the air around the products, posing a potential inhalation risk.

Analysis of one Proactiv product exposed to 70°C (the temperature of a hot car) for less than one day detected benzene levels that, if dispersed in a 100 cubic foot compact vehicle, would measure 1,270 times the EPA calculated threshold for increased cancer risk by long-term inhalation exposure to benzene, writes Valisure.

In a side-by-side comparison of airborne benzene, 2,724 parts per billion (ppb) of benzene were detected in Proactiv 2.5% BPO, versus 1,160 ppb for Equate Beauty 10% BPO.

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

Valisure attributes the benzene contamination in BPO acne treatments to the inherent instability of the benzoyl peroxide molecule, which breaks down and forms benzene.

David Light, Valisure’s Co-Founder and President, said in a press release that, “The benzene in benzoyl peroxide products is coming from the benzoyl peroxide itself, sometimes at hundreds of times the conditional FDA limit. This means the problem broadly affects benzoyl peroxide products, both prescription and over-the-counter, and necessitates urgent action.”

Valisure sent a petition to the FDA requesting an investigation and recall of BPO-containing products. The petition notes that BPO decomposition into benzene has previously been identified and acted upon in other industries, including the polymer and chemical industries.

Benzene a Known Human Carcinogen

The chemical benzene is found in crude oil, gasoline, and cigarette smoke. It is also a component of chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics, resins, synthetic fibers, rubbers, detergents, drugs, and pesticides.

HHS and the International Agency for Research on Cancer recognize that benzene causes cancer in humans. FDA lists benzene as a Class 1 solvent that should not be used in the manufacture of drug substances and drug products due to its “unacceptable toxicity.”

Exposure to benzene is associated with blood cancers such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Studies have additionally shown that benzene exposure is linked to neurologic, immunologic, and reproductive/developmental effects.

Class Action Complaint and Lawsuit Allegations

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Milberg class action attorneys claim that Equate Acne Treatment Gel and Equate Acne Cleanser Cream contain benzene, making them unsafe and illegal to sell under federal and state law—and therefore worthless.

Plaintiff Skylar Williams says she purchased and used Equate 10% BPO gel from Walmart. Nowhere on the product labeling or in promotional materials is there mention that the acne treatment contains, or is at risk of containing, benzene. Furthermore, there is no way she could have ascertained the presence of benzene in the product, Williams states in the complaint. She was wholly reliant on Walmart’s representations.

No reasonable consumer would have paid any amount for products containing benzene, a known carcinogen and reproductive toxin.

Had Walmart disclosed the presence of benzene in the product, it likely would not have been on store shelves. And even if it was available for sale, no reasonable consumer would have purchased it had they known there was the potential for benzene contamination, the complaint adds.

Williams seeks to represent a national consumer class consisting of all persons in the U.S. who purchased Equate brand acne cream and gel products containing benzoyl peroxide, as well as an Illinois subclass and a consumer fraud multi-state subclass of California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Washington residents.

The lawsuit requests damages for injuries to class members, including compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs based on violations of state consumer fraud statutes. It was filed by Gary M. Klinger, Nick Suciu III, J. Hunter Bryson, and Luis Cardona.

Milberg’s Consumer Protection Practice

Milberg has been active in filing lawsuits over the benzene content of consumer products. Earlier this month, a judge gave preliminary approval to a $2 million class action settlement resolving claims that Suave aerosol antiperspirant deodorants contain benzene.

We have also filed benzene lawsuits involving the dry shampoo brands Sol de JaneiroKloranePaul Mitchell, and Not Your Mother’s.

Since 1965, Milberg attorneys have filed thousands of class action lawsuits, recovered billions of dollars for our clients, and advanced consumer safety through our litigation efforts.