Hair Products and Breast Cancer: What’s the Risk?

Questions regarding the connection between hair products and cancer risk have circulated in and out of the news for years.

Recently, a study published in the International Journal of Cancer examined relative cancer risk related to the use of hair dyes and straightening products.

To provide deeper understanding of this study’s conclusions, True Health Initiative spoke with Council Member, Margaret Cuomo, MD and author of A World Without Cancer.

Dr. Cuomo explains that, “For many years, reports of possible links between hair dye and cancer have emerged, but the results of these studies have been inconsistent and inconclusive. Research has indicated that formaldehyde, present in many hair straightening products, is a known carcinogen. Permanent hair dyes contain chemicals with long names (2,4 – diaminoanisole sulfate and para-phenylenediamine that have been shown to cause mammary tumors in rats.”

To understand the weight of this study, it is important to understand the way the study was conducted.  Scientists at the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the NIH conducted what is called a, “sister study.”

The scientists collected data from 46, 709 women, ranging in age from 35 to 74 years.  Each participant had a sister with breast cancer but were cancer-free themselves. The women were studied from 2003 to 2009 in a prospective cohort studied, whereby the questionnaires were answered by the women, and telephone interviews were conducted, to determine the use of hair products in the past 12 months.

While an increased relative risk was found for women using permanent hair dyes, no link was found between temporary or semipermanent dyes and relative breast cancer risk.

Dr. Cuomo explains, “the study results indicate that breast cancer risk increased with more frequent use of permanent hair dye and chemical hair straighteners. While white women who used permanent hair dye every 5-8 weeks or more had an 8% increase in the risk of breast cancer, the risk for black women was 60%. No significant links were found between breast cancer risk and semipermanent or temporary hair dyes.”

Women who used chemical hair straighteners every 5-8 weeks or more had a 30% increased risk of breast cancer, with no significant differences between white and black women. However, the study found that the use of hair straightening products is more common in black women than in white women.

What is the significance of this study and how might you apply the findings to your life?

Dr. Cuomo says that, “It’s important to remember that this observational study depended upon the ability of the participants in the study to recall the specific type of hair products used in the past year, as well as the frequency of use. In addition, there may be other factors contributing to the breast cancer risk of the participants, including their family history of breast cancer, their body weight, level of physical activity, history of tobacco use, and other factors.”

Should you stop dying or straightening your hair?  Dr. Cuomo notes that, ”The authors  conclude that women should consider avoiding these chemicals to reduce breast cancer risk.” She also advises that, “The results of this study should be replicated in future studies.”

If you are concerned about using these products, there are many natural alternatives that can change the color and texture of your hair.  Another great option is reveling in your natural beauty- just as you are.