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 and evaluate newly published research into the causes of cancer in order to shape our health information. And there are key things we look out for to evaluate any new study.

What type of study is it?

Was the study looking at cells in a dish, animals or people? Studies in animals and cells can help scientists understand the basics of cancer but they cannot replicate how things will work in humans.

So, we focus more on studies in people as they can show with much more certainty how something affects the risk of developing cancer in humans. The best studies also account for other factors that could affect someone’s cancer risk, such as whether they smoke or drink.

How many people were in the study, and how long were they followed for? Studies involving only a handful of people aren’t likely to be as reliable, because results are more likely to happen by chance. And studies that only follow people for a short timeframe can miss any potential long-term effects. Therefore, we mainly look at studies that follow hundreds or usually thousands of people for a long time because they give results we can be surer of.

Who carried out the study and where is it published?

It’s important to see if a study was published in a scientific journal and was carried out by scientists that work for a university or known institute. This is because before researchers can publish their findings in a journal, other experts who were not involved in the study will check it is accurate.

How does the study fit in with previous evidence?

Some studies show conflicting results, but we evaluate any new study within the context of all the available research and give more weight to the most rigorous scientific studies.

How to spot fake news about cancer?

Sometimes news outlets can over-inflate stories about cancer, whether it’s a new treatment, or news on what could lower or increase your risk of developing the disease. You can use the same questions we discussed above to judge a study and news story yourself.  For more tips on how to spot fake news visit our blog here.

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