Do cosmetics and toiletries cause cancer?

  • Using cosmetics (makeup) doesn't cause cancer 
  • UK law is very strict about ingredients in cosmetics and toiletries
  • Always make sure that you buy your cosmetics and toiletries from reputable retailers

People sometimes worry about whether chemicals in personal care products such as makeup and toiletries could cause cancer. This page looks at products that have been in the news, and explains what the research says about makeup, skincare, toiletries and cancer.

 

Are cosmetics and toiletries from the UK safe?

There are strict safety regulations and laws in the UK and EU that control ingredients in makeup and toiletries. Some substances are banned, and others are restricted. For example, some ingredients are only allowed in small amounts or may only be used in ‘rinse-off’ products.

Always make sure that you buy makeup and toiletries from a reputable retailer and use according to manufacturer instructions.

Take care if you are buying products online, as cosmetics and toiletries produced outside of the UK and EU may not be as closely regulated and could contain harmful ingredients.

 

Does deodorant cause cancer?

No. Using deodorants, antiperspirants and body sprays does not cause cancer.

Some people have wondered if aluminium in some deodorants and sprays affects cancer risk. But there is no good evidence to suggest a link.

The NHS tells people not to use spray deodorants before going for breast screening. This is not because deodorants are dangerous, but because they can affect screening results.

 

Does hair dye cause cancer?

Personal use of hair dye does not cause cancer. This includes regular root coverings, balayage and changing your hair colour.

There is some evidence that daily contact with hair dye, for example by hairdressers and barbers, could increase the risk of bladder cancer. But the biggest risk factor for bladder cancer is smoking, which causes 45% of UK bladder cancer cases. 

If you smoke and want to reduce your risk of bladder cancer, as well as at least 14 other cancers, the best thing you can do is stop smoking.

 

Does talcum powder cause cancer?

Some studies have looked at a possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. But there isn’t enough good evidence to say that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer.

Some studies have suggested a possible increase in risk of ovarian cancer in women who use talc on their genitals, but the evidence isn’t clear. More research in bigger, higher-quality studies is needed to confirm if there’s a link.

Even if there was an increased risk from talcum powder, it would likely be smaller than known causes of ovarian cancer, like age, family history, and smoking.

 

Do parabens cause cancer?

No. Parabens do not cause cancer in humans, including breast cancer.

Parabens are used in personal care products as a preservative. This means that they allow products to last longer on the shelf.

Some small studies in rats found that paraben might act like the hormone oestrogen, which is linked to breast cancer. But there’s no good evidence linking parabens to breast cancer in humans.

 

We regularly review new research on the causes of cancer to make sure our information is up to date and based on the best quality evidence. We develop our information by looking at lots of research carried out over many years. So, although new research comes out all the time, it is unlikely that one new study would change our position on a topic.  

Some studies are better than others at telling us about how different factors affect cancer risk. These are some of the things we consider:

  • Did the study look at cells, animals or people?

Studies in animals and cells can help scientists understand how cancer works, but they can’t always tell us how it’s relevant to humans. So we focus on studies in people.

  • How big is the study and how long did it go on for?

Studies on small numbers of people aren’t as reliable, because results are more likely to happen by chance. And studies that only follow people for a short amount of time can miss long-term effects. So we mainly look at studies that follow thousands of people over many years.

  • Did the study account for other factors that could affect someone’s cancer risk?

There are lots of factors that can affect someone’s risk of cancer. Studies should take known risk factors into account. For example, if a study is looking at air pollution and lung cancer, it should also look at whether participants smoked.

  • Where is the study published and who funded it?

It’s important to see if a study is published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. This means that other experts have checked the results. It’s also important to know who funded the study, as this can affect the findings. For example, Cancer Research UK disregards research funded by the tobacco industry.

How to find accurate information on cancer

Sometimes news outlets exaggerate stories about cancer. It’s helpful to think about some of the questions above to judge a news story. But the most important thing is to get information from a trusted source– for example our website and the NHS.

One way of knowing if you can trust health information is by checking if the Patient Information Forum (PIF) has accredited it. The PIF makes sure that information is based on up to date evidence and is high quality.

The Patient Information Forum tick looks like this.

Patient Information Tick

You can read more about spotting fake news on cancer on our blog.

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