We attempt to review the safety assessment of personal care products (PCP) and ingredients that are representative and pose complex safety issues. PCP are generally applied to human skin and mainly produce local exposure, although skin penetration or use in the oral cavity, on the face, lips, eyes and mucosa may also produce human systemic exposure. In the EU, US and Japan, the safety of PCP is regulated under cosmetic and/or drug regulations. Oxidative hair dyes contain arylamines, the most chemically reactive ingredients of PCP. Although arylamines have an allergic potential, taking into account the high number of consumers exposed, the incidence and prevalence of hair dye allergy appears to be low and stable. A recent (2001) epidemiology study suggested an association of oxidative hair dye use and increased bladder cancer risk in consumers, although this was not confirmed by subsequent or previous epidemiologic investigations. The results of genetic toxicity, carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity studies suggest that modern hair dyes and their ingredients pose no genotoxic, carcinogenic or reproductive risk. Recent reports suggest that arylamines contained in oxidative hair dyes are N-acetylated in human or mammalian skin resulting in systemic exposure to traces of detoxified, i.e. non-genotoxic, metabolites, whereas human hepatocytes were unable to transform hair dye arylamines to potentially carcinogenic metabolites. An expert panel of the International Agency on Research of Cancer (IARC) concluded that there is no evidence for a causal association of hair dye exposure with an elevated cancer risk in consumers. Ultraviolet filters have important benefits by protecting the consumer against adverse effects of UV radiation; these substances undergo a stringent safety evaluation under current international regulations prior to their marketing. Concerns were also raised about the safety of solid nanoparticles in PCP, mainly TiO(2) and ZnO in sunscreens. However, current evidence suggests that these particles are non-toxic, do not penetrate into or through normal or compromised human skin and, therefore, pose no risk to human health. The increasing use of natural plant ingredients in personal care products raised new safety issues that require novel approaches to their safety evaluation similar to those of plant-derived food ingredients. For example, the Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC) is a promising tool to assess the safety of substances present at trace levels as well as minor ingredients of plant-derived substances. The potential human systemic exposure to PCP ingredients is increasingly estimated on the basis of in vitro skin penetration data. However, new evidence suggests that the in vitro test may overestimate human systemic exposure to PCP ingredients due to the absence of metabolism in cadaver skin or misclassification of skin residues that, in vivo, remain in the stratum corneum or hair follicle openings, i.e. outside the living skin. Overall, today's safety assessment of PCP and their ingredients is not only based on science, but also on their respective regulatory status as well as other issues, such as the ethics of animal testing. Nevertheless, the record shows that today's PCP are safe and offer multiple benefits to quality of life and health of the consumer. In the interest of all stakeholders, consumers, regulatory bodies and producers, there is an urgent need for an international harmonization on the status and safety requirements of these products and their ingredients.