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Cosmetics and cancer

Woman applying moisturiserPeople sometimes worry about whether chemicals in cosmetics could raise the risk of cancer.

The term 'cosmetics' covers a wide variety of products, including moisturisers, shampoos, deodorants and toothpastes. 

But there is no good scientific evidence to believe that any of these products could cause cancer.

The cosmetics market is highly regulated in the UK

There are very tight regulations in the EU and the UK about cosmetics. Manufacturers must ensure that their cosmetic products are safe before they can be sold. The EU has produced a list of banned substances that are not allowed to be used. And other chemicals are only allowed in cosmetics subject to special restrictions. For example, they may only be present in limited amounts or may only be used in rinse-off products. This applies to both natural and synthetic chemicals.

Some specific cosmetic products

Deodorants and parabens

Many scare stories about cosmetics relate to chemicals called parabens. Many of these stories focus on deodorants, and you can find out more on our deodorants page

However, there is no good scientific evidence to suggest that parabens from any cosmetics can cause cancer in people, nor that the levels of parabens found in these tissues are harmful.


Another persistent hoax claims that lipsticks contain lead and therefore cause cancer. This is not true and you can find out more on our CancerHelp UK website.


Rumours that moisturisers could cause skin cancer also make the rounds occasionally. Most recently, such a claim was made based on a laboratory study which found that moisturizing creams could increase the risk of skin cancer in mice that were already exposed to high doses of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, mimicking the effect of heavy sun exposure.

But that is a long way from saying that this also applies to humans. Our Science Update blog took a thorough look at what the scientists actually found and what it means for humans.

Hair dyes

Hair dyes have been involved in cancer scares too. But there is no clear scientific evidence to show that hair dyes could cause cancer. See our take on the evidence on our hair dyes cancer controversy page.

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Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team
Updated: 13 March 2014