Beware of Carcinogens in Cosmetics!

By: Prof. Dr. Ir. Sedarnawati Yasni, M.Agr., LPPOM MUI Senior Auditor

In early October 2022, the National Agency for Drug and Food Control (BPOM) released a list of cosmetics that contain carcinogenic hazardous ingredients. What is the impact on cosmetics users?

BPOM has tested the quality of some cosmetics circulating in the community because they are suspected of containing dangerous chemicals. The tests were conducted for ten months, from October 2021 to August 2022.

The results stated that there were 16 cosmetic products containing Medicinal Chemicals (BKO) and hazardous materials for health. Prohibited dyes, including Red K3 and Red K10, dominated the findings.

According to BPOM, K3 red and K10 red dyes are ingredients that are at risk of causing cancer (carcinogenic). The BPOM’s Traditional Medicines, Health Supplements, and Cosmetics Supervision Division explained that at least 1 million cosmetic units contain carcinogens with an economic value of IDR 34.4 billion. Apart from that, BPOM also withdrew 46 cosmetics from circulation because they had prohibited materials and were contaminated by microbes, and there were also counterfeit cosmetics.

Carcinogens are substances, organisms, or agents that can cause cancer. These raw materials are produced chemically and created naturally, for example, from ultraviolet light or certain viruses. As quoted by, the carcinogen content used in cosmetic products has proven harmful to human health.

Professor of IPB University, Prof. Sedarnawati Yasni, emphasized that based on the Regulation of the Minister of Health of the Republic of Indonesia No. 445/Menkes/Permenkes/1998, cosmetics are preparations or a combination of materials that are ready to be used on the outside of the body (epidermis, hair, nails, lips, and external genital organs), teeth and oral cavity for cleaning, adding attractiveness, changing appearance, keeps it in good condition, improves body odour but is not intended to treat or cure a disease.

Sedarnawati further explained that many substances could be declared carcinogens or harmful to health, especially in decorative cosmetics. By using decorative cosmetics such as powder, lipstick, blush, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara, eyebrow pencils, and others, one’s appearance can be more beautiful.

Carcinogens in Cosmetics

K3 and K10 are red and are mainly used to colour lipsticks and other decorative preparations such as eye shadow and blush. Both of these ingredients are reported to be harmful to health and damage the appearance of the skin. In addition, using Rhodamine B as a synthetic red dye in decorative cosmetic preparations (lipstick and eye shadow) is a carcinogenic substance when it accumulates in the body.

The results of an analysis of BPOM’s findings regarding the use of Rhodamine B that was not in compliance with the regulations stated that of the five eye shadow samples and three lipstick samples analyzed using the High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) method, it was reported that all eye shadow samples contained rhodamine B with the most significant value of 776.98 mg/kg. In comparison, two lipstick samples included rhodamine B with the lowest weight of 4.23 mg/kg (1).

The other ingredients are phenacetin and benzene. Phenacetin is still used in hair care products, including hair dyes or bleaching products. Benzene is an ingredient that has a high risk of triggering cancer and various health problems related to the lungs, bladder, kidneys, reproduction, and digestive tract. This carcinogen is also used in cosmetic products such as hair dyes, shampoos, dandruff/scalp treatments, and skin redness/rosacea treatments.

Lipstick is one of the women’s must-have accessories, made of wax, pigment, and oil. Some lipsticks are thought to contain heavy metals that are harmful to the human body, such as lead (Pb), chromium (Cr), and cadmium (Cd). Visually, the darker the lipstick colour, the higher the lead content. The effects take time to accumulate in the body because it is toxic and carcinogenic.

The cosmetic requirements from BPPOM state that there cannot be heavy metals, including lipstick products. The rich metal content must be harmful. This can be understood from using lipstick on the sensitive lip area, which is also easily ingested through food and enters the human digestive system (Supriyadi, 2008).

What is the mechanism of action of heavy metals that enter the body? The toxic properties of heavy metals can result in carcinogens (cancer-causing) because metals are bound to ligands from biological structures. Most metals will occupy these bonds in several enzyme systems in the body, so the enzymes are ineffective.

Dangerous for Health

BPOM explains carcinogens are substances that can trigger the growth of cancer cells. These substances can unknowingly enter the body in various ways, both through the air we breathe and the food or drink we consume. Although the cause of cancer is still unknown with certainty, multiple studies show that long-term exposure to carcinogenic substances can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.

Therefore, some countries prohibit the use of substances that contain carcinogens. The California Environmental Protection Agency states that formalin, phenacetin, and benzene are dangerous because their exposure can attack organ functions, including the eyes, skin, respiratory system, blood, central nervous system, and bone marrow. European and Canadian governments prohibit its use in beauty products in any quantity.

Halal or Haram?

The Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) has not issued a specific fatwa regarding the law on using cosmetics containing chemicals. However, Islam provides guidelines so that Muslim women are selective in using cosmetics that do not harm their bodies, are not excessive, and do not change Allah’s creation.

The selected cosmetics must be entirely safe for use and not from ingredients prohibited by the Shari’a. This is based on the rule of useful fiqh, which states, “The original law of something useful is permissible, and the original law of something harmful is unlawful”. In other words, the cosmetics must be healthy and not harm the user’s skin or self.

Allah does not forbid any jewellery, including cosmetics, but care must be taken that the ingredients do not damage humans and the universe, as explained in [QS. 7:56] (8) “Do not spread corruption in the land after it has been set in order. And call upon Him with hope and fear. Indeed, Allah’s mercy is always close to the good-doers”. 

Referring to the above, Prof. Sedarnawati, a senior auditor at LPPOM MUI, specifically emphasized that millennials and the public have knowledge and behaviour regarding the legality of cosmetic safety to prevent themselves from being exposed to carcinogens in cosmetics.

Safe cosmetics are cosmetics that are free from hazardous materials and have legality. According to BPOM (2018), The criteria for safe and suitable cosmetic products are cosmetics that have a distribution permit or are registered with the Director General of POM so that BPOM can supervise them.

It is, furthermore, based on the Decree of the Head of the RI POM Agency No. HK. 00.05.4. 1745 concerning Cosmetics, the requirements for cosmetics that are produced and or distributed must meet the following requirements: (a) use ingredients that meet the standards and quality requirements as well as other specified requirements; (b) produced using suitable cosmetic manufacturing methods; and (3) registered with and obtaining a distribution permit from the National Agency of Drug and Food Control. The registered cosmetics must meet other criteria, such as efficacy and safety, benefit, quality, and marking.

“Use cosmetics that have obtained halal certificates, are sold officially, and BPOM registered, or understand natural cosmetic products and various dosage forms that are safe and halal for consumers,” said Sedarnawati. (***)


Dede Komarudin, Siva Fauziah, Ratih Pramintari. 2019. Jurnal Ilmiah Kesehatan. Vol. 18 No. 3 : 88-92. 

Ayuni Adinda, Ade Trisnawati, Novia Fahmi Ayu W, Mayang Restiawati. 2018. Pengaruh Kecerahan Warna Lipstik terhadap Banyaknya Kandungan Logam Berat Timbal, Kromium, dan Kadmium yang Dianalisis Menggunakan Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (AAS). CHEESA, Vol. 1 No. 1: 1-6.

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