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Study: Moisturizers Increase Skin Cancer in Mice

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Friday, August 15, 2008 6:02 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Skin Cancer, Dermabase, Dermovan, Eucerin, Vanicream, FDA & Prescription Drugs, Moisturizer, Squamous Cell Carcinoma

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IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto/ applying moisturizer / iconogenic


A new study by Rutgers University found that common moisturizing creams helped skin cancer spread and tumors to grow in mice exposed to ultraviolet radiation.

The cancer detected is squamous cell carcinoma - a slow growing, highly treatable and almost never fatal disease when it is detected early.

The findings suggest that these – and possibly other like products – are not as safe they are thought to be.

Scientists from Rutgers University discovered the risk while testing a theory that topical caffeine could prevent skin cancer in humans after an animal study showed promise.

Researchers first tested the Dermabase cream and were surprised by the tumor-promoting activity of the cream, study leader Allan H. Conney, PhD and professor in the school of pharmacy at Rutgers University, told WebMD.

That led researchers to test three other moisturizers, which they intended to use in a human study. For the animal studies, researchers exposed hairless mice to extended sessions of ultraviolet radiation to induce non-melanoma skin cancer.

After UV treatment, they applied four different common brands of skin moisturizers for five days a week over a17 week period.

Researchers found that the mice treated with skin moisturizers displayed an increased rate of tumor growth. More tumors were seen on those animals treated with moisturizers than the mice that were only given UV radiation.

Conney and his team are unsure why, but suspect two ingredients - mineral oil and sodium laurel sulfate - may be the cause.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends consumers choose products that are free of carcinogenic impurities. To avoid such ingredients, like that of 1,4-dioxane, read ingredient labels and avoid those ingredients that are known to contain the contaminant, which also includes sodium laureth sulfate. For more information on safe cosmetic products, which include moisturizers, read the EWGs Skin Deep Safety Guide.

The study found: Dermabase increased tumors by 69 percent, Dermovan by 95 percent, Eucerin by 24 percent and Vanicream by 58 percent.

What the findings mean for humans, they don’t know. The study highlights the need for epidemiologists to examine people using moisturizing creams, said Conney. And the companies marketing these products should study animal models to determine if their products promote tumor growth.

This study should definitely prompt companies to consider testing moisturizing creams, said Keyvan Nouri, MD, director of dermatologic surgery at the University of Miller School of Medicine and author of Skin Cancer. “These creams should be tested before they come to market.”

The FDA classifies moisturizers as cosmetics and therefore does not require them to undergo the same safety and efficacy tests as drug products.

Skin cancer in humans is becoming more common. Nearly a million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. It is the most common type of cancer and in most cases is totally curable.

Another recent study found skin cancer rates in men have lowered, while more women are being diagnosed with skin cancer, according to recent research by the National Cancer Institute.

Not all the products tested have the two ingredients researchers suspect may be the culprits – so what exactly – if anything – may be linked to cancer is not known at this time. But two things are certain - mouse and human skin is very different and more studies are needed.

The study is published in the Aug. 14 advance online issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. #


2 Comments

Posted by Sally
Friday, August 15, 2008 7:14 PM EST

Skin cancer is a killer! Somebody should grab LINK and turn it into a one-stop consumer assistance site. It should provide answers to all these questions: What products are safe and which should be avoided? Which ingredients are dangerous? In what concentrations? What alternative products are there (that are safe but accomplish the same thing)? Who can I complain to? How can I get a refund for a moisturizer I've bought? What should I tell or ask my doctor? What signs of problems should I be on the alert for? There's a crying need for quality consumer education on this!

Anonymous User
Posted by Christine
Friday, August 15, 2008 7:26 PM EST

Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are found in MANY shampoos, hair conditioners, body washes, etc. The link to cancer, now being reported, is not a new finding, nor is it a problem that is strictly confined to facial moisturizers.
Consumers have to be vigilant and read product labels.

Comments for this article are closed.

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