Moisturizer Study:

Daily Moisturizers Shown to Cause Cancer

by Leah Day

A recent study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology has potentially linked the use of daily moisturizers with skin cancer.

A team at Rutgers University led by Allen Conney found that skin cancer tumors increased up to 95% in high risk mice when treated 4 different daily moisturizers.

This study was disturbing on many counts:

  • Unintended Consequence - Researchers weren't intending to study the possible dangers of using daily moisturizers.

    The actual study was meant to investigate if caffeine helps to prevent skin cancer. Four moisturizers were selected at random to act as a vehicle for the caffeine. Researchers were very surprised when Squamous Cell Carcinoma appeared in the mice.

  • Definite Connection - Four moisturizers were randomly selected and compared against a custom blended control. The number and size of tumors increase by 69% for Dermabase, 95% for Dermovan, 24% for Eucerin, and 58% for Vanicream. The mice subjected to the custom blended moisturizer did not develop tumors.

  • Instant Uproar - Manufacturers of the moisturizers refute findings and claim products have been tested and found safe. Eucerine and Vanicream both released statements:

    "Eucerin Original Creme has been on the market for more than 100 years and is a highly respected, dermatologist-recommended brand. It has been widely used by both individuals with normal skin and those with diseased skin under the care of physicians without any incidents of this nature ever reported."

    PSI Pharmaceutical Specialties, makers of Vanicream, said the results had "doubtful significance," given the methods that were used.

    "Vanicream Skin Cream has been safely recommended and used for nearly 30 years," the company said in a statement.

When studies like this come out, particularly in the United States, it's hard to know who is really right.

Let's look at the study itself and break it down:

Hairless mice were first subjected UV light twice a week for 20 weeks. This exposure was designed to make them high risk of developing skin tumors over the next several months.

For the next 17 weeks, 100 mg of moisturizer applied to the mice once a day, 5 days a week. Researchers were trying to find a moisturizer that would work as a good carrier for caffeine, but they had to make sure that the moisturizer would not throw off the study by effecting the mice in any way.

There has been conflicting information about the potential toxicity of Mineral Oil and Petroleum Jelly in the last few years. The three of the four moisturizers contained these ingredients in significant concentrations (Dermovan's ingredients could not be found to be compared):

  • Eucerine Ingredients: Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Ceresin, Lanolin Alcohol, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone.

  • Vanicream Ingredients: Purified Water, White Petrolatum, Cetearyl Alcohol and Ceteareth-20, Sorbitol Solution, Propylene Glycol, Simethicone, Glyceryl Monostearate, Polyethylene Glycol Monostearate, Sorbic Acid and BHT

  • Dermabase Ingredients: - Purified Water, Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Cetostearyl Alcohol

All studies have a control group in which to compare the results of the other experiments to. This study had a special "custom blend" moisturizer created by Johnson & Johnson with different ingredients from the other four:

  • Custom Blend Ingredients: purified water, propylene glycol, stearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, polysorbate 20, isopropyl myristate, C12-15 alkyl benzoate, benzoic acid, glycerin, and sodium hydroxide.

By the end of the study, only the mice treated with the custom blended moisturizer
did not develop squamous cell carcinoma.

The results can be argued forever, the study can be criticized, but the facts remain the same: the store bought, daily moisturizers did produce cancerous tumors in mice, where the custom blend did not.

Let's break down the criticisms of this study as well:

  1. Studies in mice aren't valid for humans - This is a boldfaced lie perpetuated by corporations to keep their toxic products on shelves. Remember big tobacco? There was substantial evidence dating from W.W.II on the definite link between coal tar from tobacco smoke and cancer. Numerous studies done in mice proved this connection, but were continually dismissed until the link became too apparent to ignore.

    Mice and humans have much of the same DNA because we're both mammals. If tumors are being found in a mouse, the chances are very good that they will also occur in a human (*).

    Mice represent the best possible testing subject because in 1 year you can see all the possible effects a substance has over the lifetime of any mammal. If you were using a humans to test it would take 50 years or more to know the long-term costs of using a particular substance.

    Manufacturers want you to wait and continue using their products while more research is being done. I'd rather not wait until I'm 60 to find out that half the products I've been using are carcinogenic (if I'm still alive).

    This type of confusion and misinformation was also used by big tobacco and is responsible for why a significant portion of people still smoke. You can read more information about this issue in the book "The Secret History of the War on Cancer" by Devra Davis.

  2. The study wasn't big enough - Yet another tactic used to spread confusion and unease. There will probably be a follow up study in humans using daily moisturizers based on the findings of this study. No matter if 500 or 50,000 people are studied, critics will always scream for a larger sampling.

    Anything manufacturers can do to make you think this link to cancer isn't proven will keep them in business. They make money by spreading doubt and confusion designed to keep you from taking action and protecting yourself.

  3. These products have been tested - Personal care and cosmetic products have no regulation or requirements for testing. Most products are tested through independent clinical trials, but aren't required to publish the results.

    There is no governing body that regulates this industry so most products are not tested against a control. Without a control to compare it to, there is no way of knowing if a product is safe or not, and certainly no proof that the product does what it's advertised to do. If a product was tested and found to "cure dry skin" then this would be considered a drug and therefore subject to FDA approval.

    These manufacturers can bleat all they want about the products being tested, but until personal care products are regulated by an outside, independent body (such as this Rutgers University study), these tests mean very little.

    Most skin care products and cosmetics are also not tested on animals, a fact that most ignorant people applaud. Animals, particularly rats and rabbits, have skin very similar to humans when their hair is shaved. Unlike humans, the cellular turnover rate is much higher, meaning that you can learn much more about a product, much faster if you test on animals.

    We seem to want a contradiction when it comes to beauty products: we want them to be safe, but we don't want to test them accurately (by using animals as subjects) to prove they actually are safe. Who ends up losing out?

  4. Products have been used for 100 years - How long was lead based paint used before people realized it was toxic? How long did people eat aspartame thinking it was a great alternative to sugar? Until there is actually evidence of a problem, people don't question what they're using on their bodies or in their homes.

    But the instances of cancer in women is increasing. Women didn't have a three step cleansing system 100 years ago to wash their face with. While there are a lot of toxic and harmful things we come in contact with every day, it does make sense that the products we are applying to our face, lips, eyes, and hands could be responsible for this increase.

    Unfortunately most people assume that if a product is being sold in a store, someone must have determined that it was safe and beneficial for their skin. This is a wrong assumption.

    Using personal care products and cosmetics will always represent a risk unless you do your research and know what ingredients to look out for in the products you put on your skin. Learning how to evaluate your products based on the ingredients, and not on the pretty package or the company history, is the only way to determine what is safe for your skin or your body.

* Information found in the book The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis.

Editor's Note: Leah is my daughter-in-law and an award-winning quilter. She shares insights almost daily about quilting and art and life on her very popular blog, The Free Motion Quilting Project. To see Leah's gallery of beautiful quilts that she's created, click here. If you're a quilter, both of these sites require a visit right now!

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