Do Anti-Ageing Creams Increase The Risk of Skin Cancer?

Dr Patrick J. Treacy
By Dr Patrick J. Treacy

Dr. Patrick J. Treacy is on the Specialist Register in Ireland and holds a H.Dip in Dermatology and a BTEC in Laser technology and skin resurfacing.

Dr Sam Epstein, chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and a leading US professor has said that ANTI-AGEING creams regularly used by millions of Britons could increase the risk of skin cancer.

According to the professor, these revolutionary creams that promise to smooth away the fine lines of ageing also strip the skin of its protective top layer thereby exposing the skin to dangerous toxins and making it more prone to sun damage. His actual words are "popular ingredients in anti-ageing creams called alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) were probably the most dangerous cosmetic products on the market". He is now calling on the UK regulatory authorities to introduce new regulations to protect consumers and urged British shoppers to also be aware of the risks.

"So many women, and even some men, slather these products all over their skin in the naive belief that they have nothing to fear but ageing,"

Dr Epstein said. "The British cosmetics industry must comply with EU rules on what ingredients to use and what warnings to place on labels". "At present, there is no requirement for a warning to be placed on creams containing AHAs

In America, however, the ingredient was considered dangerous enough to prompt the US Food and Drug Administration to warn consumers that AHAs "could destroy the upper layers of skin, causing severe burns, swelling and pain". Dr Epstein, who is Professor emeritus of environmental and occupational health at the University of Illinois, made his comments about the US cosmetics industry. But Prof Epstein told the Daily Express they were just as relevant to British anti-wrinkle creams. "Anything that strips the surface of the skin not only risks sunlight penetrating the exposed layer but also allows other toxic products in", he said. "All of the toxic effects are massively increased by AHAs". 

Is this american professor right

Dr Epstein also expressed concern about other ingredients commonly used in UK anti-ageing products, such as limonene. "Apart from being an irritant, it is a well-documented carcinogen", he said.

Britons spend £673million

The FACTS are Britons spend £673million a year on skincare products, with 42 per cent of all moisturisers claiming to combat ageing.

In a bid to keep up with demand, skincare companies have developed more intensive treatments in the fight to maintain beauty. AHA's are very popular in the UK because they can diminish facial lines, remove skin sallowness and uneven pigmentation, smooth skin texture and remove acne. This effect is dose-dependent. Although they can have biological effects on the skin, it is apparent that British cosmetic firms are careful never to make their products too medicinal as they would then be subject to far stricter regulations as medicines rather than cosmetics. 

A spokeswoman for the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Perfumeries Association, said cosmetic firms were not required to warn consumers if their products contained AHAs but only if they contained these ingredients at such high levels they could be dangerous.
CLINICALLY it is known that Caucasian men treated with 10% AHA skin cream for one month develop an 18% increase in sensitivity to UV light, which is linked to skin ageing and cancer. This limits the amount of glycolic acid that can be sold across the counter to consumers. It is also a fact that within a week of stopping the product, the skin returns to its normal sensitivity and there are no long term effects.
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK? Do you agree UK consumers should be aware of the risks, however small and products should stipulate the percentage of AHA and advise people to wear sun protection at the same time or should we tell the American Professor to keep his opinions to himself or we will ask Simon Cowell to emigrate to Los Angeles forever?

If you want to read more, the experts at Consulting Room really know what they're talking about and have put together some sun protection or specialist skin cream FAQs just for you. 

If you have more questions, you can use the sun protection questions or specialist skin cream questions feature to talk to our panel of trained medical experts. 

If you're keen to get started with any of these treatments right away then you're in luck - those clever folks also have a list of trusted, accredited sun protection clinics or specialist skin cream clinics in your area.


Many thanks to the author of this blog Dr Patrick Treacy.

Dr Patrick Treacy is a general practitioner with special interests in dermatology and aesthetic medicine who founded the Ailesbury Clinic and practices in Dublin and Cork in Ireland.

He is an advanced Botox®, Dysport® and Dermal filler trainer and regularly holds courses for doctors and nurses from around the world. He is also a renowned international guest speaker and lectures overseas on many cosmetic medicine issues ranging from fibroblast transplants to the growing application of radiosurgery to cosmetic medicine.


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