Given that cosmetics and personal care products are often applied to the skin or hair, chemicals or additives in these products have the potential to be absorbed. Therefore, there has been interest in whether these products pose a health risk. A potential association between some cosmetics and/or personal care products and cancer has been studied, but results appear to be mixed.
In 2008, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) analyzed the epidemiologic and animal data for a potential association between personal hair dye use (including permanent, semipermanent, and natural hair dyes) and cancer.1 IARC determined that personal use of hair dye is not classifiable as a human carcinogen, as there is inadequate evidence and limited evidence for carcinogenicity in humans and experimental animals, respectively.
Since then, several meta-analyses have been published that included studies conducted after the IARC review. A 2018 meta-analysis included 8 case-control studies conducted between 1980 and 2017, which found a modest increase in the risk of breast cancer among women who had ever used hair dyes (relative risk ratio [RR], 1.19; 95% CI, 1.03-1.37).2
Analysis of a large prospective cohort study published in 2019 found similar outcomes.3 The Sister Study enrolled more than 50,000 women who had at least 1 sister with breast cancer, but had no personal history of breast cancer at enrollment.4 The study included telephone interviews, a home visit for biological samples, and follow-up questionnaires. To determine if there was an association between hair dye or chemical relaxer/straightener use, investigators included 46,709 of the Sister Study participants and evaluated their self-reported hair product use during the 12 months prior to enrollment.4
It was unclear what the duration of use of hair products was or the cumulative exposure prior to breast cancer diagnosis. Use every 5 to 8 weeks of permanent hair dye was associated with a significantly higher, but modest increase in risk of breast cancer among the entire cohort in a multivariate model (hazard ratio [HR], 1.09; 95% CI, 1.00-1.19; P for trend =.05), with a similar association observed for ever use. The authors wrote that higher breast cancer risk was observed in women who used straighteners, specifically (HR, 1.18, 95% CI, 0.99-1.41), with higher risk associated with increased frequency (P for trend =.02) — but the confidence interval provided crossed 1, which usually indicates an association could be due to chance .
When stratified by race, the greatest association for ever use of hair dye was among black women (HR, 1.45; 95% CI, 1.10-1.90). The authors of that study wrote: “The association with permanent hair dye was particularly evident in black women, for whom we observed a 45% higher breast cancer risk. Overall, these results support the hypothesis that hair dye and straightener use, which are highly prevalent exposures, could play a role in breast carcinogenesis.”4
Use of these products in white women conferred a 7% higher risk of breast cancer (HR, 1.07; 95% CI, 0.99-1.16; heterogeneity P =.04). It is important to note here that again, the confidence interval crosses 1, which typically means an association is not significant — and a hazard ratio of 1.07 is not very meaningful.
Meta-analyses of studies that evaluated the association between hair dye use and leukemia or bladder cancer found no increased risk.5,6
A meta-analysis of 2 case-control studies published in 2013 found no increased risk of regular deodorant/antiperspirant use and breast cancer.7 Since then, one additional case-control study was published.8 This study included 209 patients with breast cancer and 209 healthy controls who participating in an in-person interview with trained interviewers who did not place special emphasis on the use of deodorant/antiperspirants. The participants were blinded to the purpose of the study. In the multivariate analysis, there was no association between deodorant/antiperspirant use and breast cancer, except among women who used these products multiple times per day beginning before the age of 30 (odds ratio [OR], 3.88; 95% CI, 1.03-14.66; P =.0456). However, the study only evaluated deodorant/antiperspirant use up to 5 years prior to the breast cancer diagnosis, which would represent an unusually short latency period for tumor initiation and progression. In addition, the model did not adjust for smoking status.
Personal Care and Skincare Products
Another analysis of the Sister Study Cohort evaluated the use of personal care products, hair products, and skincare products.9 Among white women, the risk of developing breast cancer was significantly, but modestly, elevated in a multivariate model among those who were moderate (HR, 1.13; 95% CI, 1.00-1.27) or frequent (HR, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.02-1.30) users compared with infrequent users of beauty products, including eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, foundation, makeup remover, nail polish, perfume, and lipstick. There was also a modest increase in risk of breast cancer among white women who frequently used skincare products (HR, 1.13; 95% CI, 1.00-1.29), including face, cleansing, antiaging, and foot cream, body and hand lotion, petroleum jelly, and talcum powder, compared with infrequent users. There was no association between the risk of breast cancer and the use of hair products, including hair spray, hair gel, pomade, shampoo, conditioner, and hair straightener. There was no association among the use of any personal care or skincare product among black women; however, there were few breast cancer cases, which limited the statistical power.
These results were similar to those of another prospective cohort study, the population-based Norwegian Women and Cancer cohort.10 This study included 106,978 women who completed regular follow-up questionnaires and evaluated the effect of skincare product use, defined as hand cream, facial cream, and body lotion, and the risk of estrogen receptor (ER)-positive or -negative breast cancer and endometrial cancer. There was no association between the use of skincare products and the development of premenopausal or postmenopausal breast cancer (regardless of ER expression status) or endometrial cancer when comparing frequent use to no use or light use.
- International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Occupational exposures of hairdressers and barbers and personal use of hair colourants. In: Some Aromatic Amines, Organic Dyes, and Related Exposures. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans; v. 99. Lyon, France: International Agency for Cancer Research; 2010.
- Gera R, Mokbel R, Igor I, Mokbel K. Does the use of hair dyes increase the risk of developing breast cancer? A meta-analysis and review of the literature. Anticancer Res. 2018;38(2):707-716.
- Sandler DP, Hodgson ME, Deming-Halverson SL, et al. The Sister Study cohort: baseline methods and participant characteristics. Environ Health Perspect. 2017;125(12):127003.
- Eberle CE, Sandler DP, Taylor KW, White AJ. Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in a large US population of black and white women. Int J Cancer. Epub 2019 Dec 3.
- Towle Km, Grespin ME, Monnot AD. Personal use of hair dyes and risk of leukemia: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Cancer Med. 2017;6(10):2471-2486.
- Turati F, Pelucchi C, Galeone C, Decarli A, La Vecchia C. Personal hair dye use and bladder cancer: a meta-analysis. Ann Epidemiol. 2014;24(2):151-159.
- Hardefeldt PJ, Edirimanne S, Eslichk GD. Deodorant use and breast cancer risk. Epidemiol. 2013;24(1):172.
- Linhart C, Talasz H, Morandi EM, et al. Use of underarm cosmetic products in relation to risk of breast cancer: a case-control study. EBioMedicine. 2017;21:79-85.
- Taylor KW, Troester MA, Herring AH, et al. Associations between personal care product use patterns and breast cancer risk among white and black women in the Sister Study. Environ Health Perspect. 2018;126(2):027011.
- Rylander C, Veierød MB, Weiderpass E, Lund E, Sandanger TM. Use of skincare products and risk of cancer of the breast and endometrium: a prospective cohort study. Environ Health. 2019;18(1):105.