Can Hair Dye Cause Cancer?

By Steve Blanchard - December 05, 2019

Recent headlines have raised concern among women that hair dyes and other salon products may be linked to increased risks of breast cancer. A study sparking the news coverage appeared in the International Journal of Cancer.

While the results do have some researchers scratching their heads, experts say there’s no need to panic.

Dr. Kathleen Egan, epidemiologist

“It would be premature for women to stop coloring their hair considering all the research to date,” said Moffitt Cancer Center epidemiologist Dr. Kathleen Egan.

Egan said that chemicals in some dyes are hormonal, which could be a possible link to breast cancer.

“For breast cancer, the concern relates to the possibility that these chemicals can behave like estrogens in the body, and lifetime estrogen exposure is known to be the main contributor to breast cancer in women,” she said.

For the study, researchers at the National Institute of Health used data from 46,709 American women who are enrolled in the Sister Study - a study that features cancer-free women whose sisters had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The researchers found that women who used permanent hair dye were 9% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who didn’t dye their hair. But the risk was significantly higher for black women who used permanent hair dye. That population had a 45% higher risk and, when they used them every eight weeks or more, they had a 60% higher risk.

Dr. Shelly Tworoger, associate center director of Population Science

“There are a lot of chemicals in hair dyes and hair straighteners. In fact, some have more than 5,000 chemicals in them,” said Dr. Shelley Tworoger, associate center director of Population Science at Moffitt. “As far as why there are higher instances in black and African American women, we just don’t know. It could be a difference in the products or the time that a hair product is left in place.”

Tworoger doesn’t suggest skipping the salon or foregoing a hair color change, but she does suggest limiting the time you are exposed to the chemicals and using proper safety methods if using at-home products.

“Use the gloves that are provided in those boxes and any respiratory masks,” Tworoger said.

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