Accidental Discovery Shows Moisturizers Can Cause Skin Cancer in Mice

By Eliza Strickland | August 15, 2008 3:20 pm

moisturizer skin creamResearchers have found that several moisturizers are linked to an increased skin cancer risk in hairless mice, but caution that there’s no reason for people to panic. Mouse skin is very different from human skin, they say, and the mice also developed a very curable type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, not the more lethal melanoma.

Lead researcher Allan Conney says the team discovered the risk while testing a theory that caffeine could prevent skin cancer. “We sort of got into this by accident,” Conney said in a telephone interview. “We wanted a safe cream that we could put the caffeine into” [Reuters].

In the study, which was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology [subscription required], researchers primed the albino mice with prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light, as if they’d been sunbathing for far too long. All of the mice in the experiment grew skin tumors, but those mice that had also had the moisturizer slathered on their skin had more tumors and faster tumor growth. The ingredients responsible for this effect remain a mystery, but two prime suspects are mineral oil, which has been shown to be tumorigenic in animal models, and sodium lauryl sulphate, a known irritant [New Scientist].

But experts say there’s no reason for people to throw out their skin creams. Jonathan Rees, professor of dermatology at Edinburgh University, said it would be “crazy” to stop using moisturisers on the basis of this study. Mice had a thin skin and lived in the dark, unlike humans whose bodies were designed for exposure to the sun…. “Many agents that cause skin cancer in mice do not do so in man – indeed some of these agents are used as therapies. It seems extraordinarily unlikely that the results have any clinical relevance” [The Guardian].

Image: flickr/sunshinecity

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: cancer, skin cancer
  • Sally

    Skin cancer is a killer! Somebody should grab 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!

  • Jerome

    Perhaps it’s time for people to start using natural, non chemical and safe products, rather than synthetic death wax?

  • Jojo

    So if mouse skin is SO DIFFERENT from human skin, why are they testing for skin cancer on mice? Are they simply trying to nip a huge outbreak of mouse skin cancer?

    And whether or not any type of skin cancer is curable (“and the mice also developed a very curable type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, not the more lethal melanoma.”), it is only so if the person gets to a doctor in time. What do the 50 million or so people in the USA who do not have health insurance do? They certainly are not going to be the ones who are able to visit a doctor for preventative care!

  • chris is a great database for the hazards of cosmetics including sunscreen and moisturizers . The information is collected by the Environmental Working Group and the products are rated 0 (low hazard) to 10 (high hazard). Its interesting to see some big names with appealing product names to have such high scores. For example, Estée Lauder Re-Nutriv Intensive Lifting Hand Cream scored a 10; Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion, Moisturizer, Dry Skin scored a 9; Bikini Zone Medicated Creme, L’Occitane Shea Butter Ultra Rich Body Cream, and Aveeno Positively Radiant Moisturizing Lotion scored an 8.
    This database is very well organized and easy to use; however when selecting low hazard products, keep in mind the “data gap” percentage which is how much has not yet been tested fot that product. This is definitely a site to bookmark!

  • Dewey

    The cancer was caused by ultraviolet light exposure. This is just poor science. These mice are bred to grow cancerous cells. Why weren’t the mice given applications of the creams after each dose of UV light?

    The best way to avoid skin cancer is to stay out of the sun!!!

  • anonymous

    We’re bombarded by information telling us how there’s no “safe” level of sun exposure. This isn’t the case.

    Humans were exposed to sunlight near constantly for ten thousand years without sunscreen and skin cancer was rare. Why? We ate healthy diets. We built our tans gradually. Insomnia and depression were rare. Both of these things can be triggered by low levels of sun exposure. Recent science had discovered that the RDA for vitamin D is too low and that optimal blood levels need to be revised. Vitamin D is a steroid precursor hormone and performs multiple functions within the body. D is needed for calcium absorbtion.

    As a whole we have become a pale and pasty skinned society, unfamiliar with fresh natural foods. Our produce sits on trucks and shelves and in refrigerations not picked daily from our yard and cooked. Refrigeration has protected us from disease but made us food-foolish.

    Our immune systems are not challenged by germs as infants and toddlers bathed in antibacterial soap despite the knowledge that the way vaccine works is because the human immune system learns to fight what it is exposed to. Ever notice that toddlers instinctively put everything in their mouths? Notice that Caucasians have the palest skin and the highest rates of skin cancer and oseoporosis? They aren’t getting enough sun exposure or building up their tan levels.

    Sooner or later, these generations will have lost the ability to make these hormones.

    Skin cancer, depression, chronic fatigue system, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, poor immune function, and many other conditions are becoming more not less common as we slather on sunscreens, huddle in AC, avoid the sun, eat insta food stored too long and grown with tons of pesticides.

  • Ted

    There have been many reports recently about sodium LAURETH sulfate, a prime ingredient in mild skin lotions and “no-more-tears” shampoos, because the U.S. does not require companies to list the byproducts of industrial processing, only the initial ingredient. In Europe, companies are required to use a more expensive post process to remove traces of carcinogenic byproducts.

    What I wonder is whether there could be carcinogenic byproducts in sodium LAURYL sulfate as well, or whether there are s-laureth-s-like processing byproducts as a result of buffering.

  • Constance

    Personally, it was suggested to use olive oil to hydrate my baby’s skin and it is just great! 100% natural – no hidden estrogen to give the body the wrong signals and it is soaked up as quick as the more common baby oils.

  • Beth

    I am a little shocked that scientists in this report would dismiss the idea that moisturizers with sodium laureth sulfate are cancer causing for humans. There are NUMEROUS studies that show their conclusion to be false. Two places you can go to research all the toxins and cancer causing elements in many of our cosmetics are national geographic’s site (search on cosmetics) and the environmental working group’s site Additionally, Doris Rapp, the well known and well-respected researcher on allergies and our families, has written a book called Our Toxic World. Her compilations show beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are the architects of our own increases in cancers, ADD, ADHD, auto-immune diseases, chronic fatigue, and many other things that plague our people today. WE DID IT TO US. Many cosmetics today contain elements that age us while claiming to make us look younger. In fact, NOT using most of the commercial products would keep your skin younger than USING them.

  • Hydroxatone

    Very nice blog, I agree with most of what you are saying here…

  • skin care review

    Moisturizers have some strong ingredients that aren’t good enough to animals. Whtaever the effects are, they may not be applicable to humans as products are intended to human’s tolerance.

  • matthew rementilla

    we are currently conducting a research on chocolates and their effects to the tolerance of albino mice ti skin cancer. Does the caffeine prevent it? Do flavonoids play a role on it? Need a lot of help. Thanks.

  • No SLS

    Avoiding sls is the way to go. There are so many products that use it so you have to be aware and look at the ingredients before you buy products.

  • Trudy

    it is about Accidental Discovery Shows Moisturizers Can Cause Skin Cancer in Mice. yes i completely agree with author.


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