How personal care products, cosmetics are associated with various cancers?

Have you been unknowingly increasing your cancer risk for the sake of beauty? It depends on what products you are using.

There were concerns with beauty products that contain the endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). While direct link between EDCs and cancer is not yet definitive, certain cancers are hormonally-driven for sure. That includes breast, prostate, ovarian and endometrial cancers.

Hormone disruptors can affect how the oestrogen and other hormones act in our body, by blocking them or mimicking them, which throws off body's hormonal balance. Because oestrogen can make the hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer develop and grow, many women choose to limit their exposure to these chemicals that can act like the oestrogen.

Cosmetics that are intended for retail sale must have a list of ingredients on the label. Products for use by the professionals and samples distributed free of charge are not required to list the ingredients on their labels.

The Food and Drug Administration’s Centre for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System:

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made Centre for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Adverse Event Reporting System (CAERS) publicly available in the late 2016 to increase the transparency and encourage adverse event reporting from consumers related to the cosmetics. A recent update of database in 2017 includes adverse event reported to the FDA related to cosmetics submitted by the consumers and health care providers from January 2004 to March 2017.

Major chemicals concerned with cancer association

Not only the cancer patients, but also the people in general, should avoid these three major chemicals and the chemical groups:


Parabens are the preservative chemicals that imitate oestrogen, so they wreak havoc on your hormones. Their use is associated with breast and skin cancer as well as decreased sperm count. They are easily absorbed, so all of those harmful properties are drowning right in.

Parabens are difficult to be avoided, but it’s possible if you know what you’re looking for. Scan the label and put it back if you see any paraben listed on them, including methylparaben. If it’s paraben-free, it should be labelled as such. Or make it easy on yourself and go with cosmetics company that doesn’t use parabens at all.


Triclosan is an antimicrobial chemical, and it is linked to thyroid issues and has also contributed to the rise in antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Formaldehyde-Releasing Preservatives

Formaldehyde is a known skin sensitizer, an allergen, and carcinogen.

Carcinogenicity testing has also recently begun to incorporate more efficient in vivo and in vitro mechanism-based screening that focuses on early biological indicators of toxicity, as opposed to targeting cancer end points.

This understanding could ultimately increase capacity of high-throughput carcinogenicity testing to help identify the carcinogens for further evaluation. Fundamentally, it is challenging to prove causality for individual chemical applied topically over many years with a specific cancer within the context of exposures to hundreds of other confounding chemicals and complex multifactorial etiology of many cancers.


Future's studies investigating paraben mixtures and their cross-talks with other EDCs or signalling pathways both the in vivo and in vitro are warranted. For now, the cautions should be taken when the individuals, including breast cancer patients or individuals with high risk of the breast cancer, make decisions on personal care products containing parabens and various other components that are warned to be harmful to body.

About the Author

Dr Nalli Ramya, Otorhinolaryngologist and Head and Neck surgeon (JIPMER); An Author, International motivational speaker; Founder/CEO of RAMICOS COSMETICS

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