The health risk of hair dyes has been debated for decades, but a 2017 study shows evidence of an increased risk of breast cancer in women who use dark hair dye shades.
Rutgers University researchers found that African-American women surveyed were found to have 51 percent higher risk of breast cancer when the used dark brown or black hair dyes, Science Times reports (Sciencetimes.com). Caucasian women who used chemical hair relaxers or straighteners were found to have a 74 percent higher cancer risk.
The researchers analyzed hair product use for African American and Caucasian women, from different social and economic backgrounds. The study was published in the June online issue of the journal Carcinogenesis.
WebMD reported on the study, which involved 4,285 women from New Jersey and New York: 2,280 with cancer (1,508 African American and 772 Caucasian women) and 2,005 controls (1,290 African American and 715 Caucasian). The women were asked about their use of hair products including dyes, chemical relaxers, and deep conditioning creams containing cholesterol or placenta. Cholesterol is marketed as a moisturizing product, while placenta is promoted as a hair repair product.
The information analyzed included how long the women had used the hair dyes, the shade of the dye they used, and the woman’s race. The researchers adjusted their findings for factors such as age, education, and use of birth control pills. The note that it’s possible that some element of a woman’s lifestyle other than use of hair dyes and relaxers could affect her breast cancer risk.
Parker Waichman notes that exposure to the chemicals in hair dyes and relaxers is also a concern for the hairdressers and salon workers who regularly use these products to treat clients’ hair.
Adana Llanos, the study’s lead researcher, who is an epidemiologist at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Rutgers School of Public Health, explained, “Just because we found these associations doesn’t mean that if you dye your hair dark, or any color, you’re going to get breast cancer.” Llanos said it is not clear why the chemicals in hair products may boost cancer risk. Research suggests the risk may involve DNA damage or absorption of harmful chemicals in the products.
Darker dyes have different chemical formulas than lighter colors and the difference in ingredients may explain the increased cancer risk for darker dyes. Llanos said more research is needed “to determine specifically which compounds and chemicals are dangerous and even which specific consumer products and brands contain those chemicals.” Llanos also noted that we all regularly “encounter a variety of harmful exposures” over which we have no control and “we should limit or reduce the possibility of harmful exposures when we are able to do so.”
The cancer risk is not the only concern for hair dye users. Women have also suffered skin reactions and hair damage. Hair relaxers have caused breakage and hair thinning. Women have reported that the products stunt hair growth and some women have also complained of scalp irritation, chemical burns to the scalp, scalp damage, or hair loss.
Hair Dyes and Cancer
Studies have investigated the relationship between the use of hair dyes and the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a blood cancer that starts in white blood cells, which are part of the body’s immune system. But a pooled (combined) analysis of four case-control studies showed that women who began using hair dye before 1980 had a slightly (30%) increased risk of NHL compared with women who had never used hair dye, the National Cancer Institute reports. No such increased risk was seen for women who began using hair dye after 1980.
In its web page on hair dyes and cancer risk, the National Cancer Institute explains that modern hair dyes fall into three types: permanent (or oxidative), semi-permanent, and temporary. Permanent hair dyes, which make up about 80 percent of currently marketed products, consist of colorless dye “intermediates” (chemicals called aromatic amines) and dye “couplers.” In the presence of hydrogen peroxide, the intermediates and couplers react with one another to form pigment molecules. Higher concentrations of intermediates are used to darker dye color formulas. Semi-permanent and temporary hair dyes are nonoxidative and include colored compounds that stain hair directly.
Researchers have studied the potential cancer risks of hair dyes and other hair products for decades. They have focused on the risks for bladder cancer, leukemia, and breast cancer. Studies have looked at the risks for both the women having their hair treated and for the hairdressers and salon workers exposed to the hair dyes and relaxers daily.
The National Cancer Institute says that although some studies have linked the use of hair dyes with increased risks of certain cancers of the blood and bone marrow, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) and leukemia, other studies have not shown such links.
Early hair dye formulations contained chemicals, including aromatic amines that were found to cause cancer in animals. In the mid- to late 1970s, manufacturers changed the components in dye products to eliminate some of these chemicals. Researchers have not determined whether chemicals still used in hair dyes can cause cancer. But the National Cancer Institute warns that given the widespread use of hair dye products, even a small increase in cancer risk may have a considerable public health impact.
Health risks from hair dyes and hair relaxers are not limited to the women whose hair is being treated. Some studies have found an increased risk of bladder cancer in hairdressers, barbers, and salon workers, who are exposed to chemicals in the products they use. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization, concluded that some of the chemicals these workers are exposed to occupationally are “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Hair Dyes and Health Risks
If you have developed breast cancer or other cancer that you believe may be linked to hair dyes, or if you have experienced hair or scalp damage or other health problems related to hair dyes and hair relaxers, the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP are available to advise you about your legal rights. To contact the firm, complete the online contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).