Permanent hair dyes, straighteners linked to increased risk of breast cancer

DURHAM, N. C. — It’s never been easier for anyone, man or woman, to make some changes to their hair if their unhappy with its color or form. There are countless over-the-counter permanent, and temporary, hair dyes and straighteners to choose from for anyone looking to make a change. However, a new study finds that permanent hair dyes and chemical straighteners may bring some unexpected risks for female users.

Researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences say that women who use these hair products are at an elevated risk of developing breast cancer. While this observation was noted across racial demographics, African American women were found to be significantly more at risk than others.

The findings also suggest that as a woman more frequently uses these products, her individual likelihood of developing breast cancer increases.

Researchers analyzed data collected on 46,709 women, and found that women who regularly used permanent hair dye within the year before the data was collected were 9% more likely to develop breast cancer. Using permanent hair dye every five to eight weeks was associated with a 60% elevated breast cancer risk for African American women, a much higher percentage than the 8% risk increase among Caucasian women who used permanent hair dye within the same time frame.

On the other hand, there was little to no increase in breast cancer risk regarding the use of temporary and semi-permanent hair dyes.

“Researchers have been studying the possible link between hair dye and cancer for a long time, but results have been inconsistent,” says corresponding author Alexandra White, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Environment and Cancer Epidemiology Group, in a release. “In our study, we see a higher breast cancer risk associated with hair dye use, and the effect is stronger in African American women, particularly those who are frequent users.”

Furthermore, the study’s authors also found a connection between breast cancer and chemical hair straighteners. Women who used hair straighteners every five to eight weeks were 30% more likely to develop breast cancer. Again, it was observed that African American women are more at risk, but the research team also noted that straightener use is more common in general among African American women.

Researchers would like to see further studies investigate this topic, in order to further validate their findings.

Co-author Dale Sandler, Ph.D., chief of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch, was asked if women reading about the study should stop dying or straightening their hair. He replied: “We are exposed to many things that could potentially contribute to breast cancer, and it is unlikely that any single factor explains a woman’s risk. While it is too early to make a firm recommendation, avoiding these chemicals might be one more thing women can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer.”

The study is published in the International Journal of Cancer.

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John Anderer

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