A hair-raising connection between hair dyes, chemical hair straighteners and cancer
Physician's Weekly
October 17, 2023

A hair-raising connection between hair dyes, chemical hair straighteners and cancer

Very few women ever question the safety of their hair dyes and chemical hair straighteners. The decision to use a particular hair product is often made based on hair type, affordability, availability, the individual’s perception of how it makes them look, recommendations from friends, and other non-health-related considerations.

Apart from some colour additives, no regulatory body determines what chemicals the manufacturers of hair products must exclude.

The skin is the body’s largest organ, and we often forget that the skin can absorb substances.

The scalp’s excellent blood supply, coupled with an abundance of hair follicles, makes it four times more absorbent than any other area of skin on our body.

Hence, when a chemical hair straightener or hair dye is applied to the hair, the chemicals often enter the bloodstream shortly after they come into contact with the scalp. Unfortunately, most straighteners and dyes are packed with hundreds of toxic chemicals, which can impact the user’s health.

It is theorized that the “epidemic” of breast cancer, especially in young Black women, and the comparatively higher incidence of dementia seen in older Black women, may be linked to their hair products.

Many of the chemicals found in hair dyes and chemical hair straighteners are disruptive to the body’s finely tuned hormone balance. It also seems as though most of the newer hair care formulations contain more powerful endocrine-disruptive substances, when compared to older products. Chemicals found in hair dyes for Black women are more toxic than chemicals in hair products for other hair types.

Hair dye, hair straightener, and breast cancer

A landmark study, which was published in the International Journal of Cancer in December 2019, showed that women who used a permanent dye in their hair over a 12-month period had a 9 per cent increased risk of developing breast cancer when compared to women who did not. The Black women in the study had a 45 per cent increased risk of developing breast cancer when compared to Black women who didn’t dye their hair.

The association of hair dyes with breast cancer was not linked to the frequency of their use, or to the period that they were used. The same study also showed that there was an unequivocal link between hair straightener use and the development of breast cancer. The risk of developing breast cancer increased by 18 per cent among all women who chemically straightened their hair. If a woman used a chemical straightener more frequently than every eight weeks, the probability of her developing breast cancer jumped by 31 per cent. The association between breast cancer and hair straighteners seemed to be similar for all races of women. However, because Black women were more likely to use chemical hair straightening products more frequently than women of other races, they were more likely to develop breast cancer when compared to other women.

Generally, there was no increased risk of breast cancer in women who used semi-permanent dyes when applied by a professional. However, those women who self-applied hair dyes had a higher chance of developing breast cancer. It was postulated that in the latter instant, dyes were more likely to come into contact with the scalp, allowing the chemicals within to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

It should be noted that those who participated in the aforementioned study had at least one first- degree relative with breast cancer, so these participants were at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. However, the study’s authors concluded that the alarming and disproportionate increase in the incidence of breast cancer in Black women who used hair dyes could not be explained by genetics alone. The chemical exposure from the hair dyes likely played a significant role.

Reducing Your Risk of Getting Cancer From Hair Products

1. Love and embrace who you are.

2. Be skeptical regarding the claims made by hair product manufacturers.

3. Go easy on the hair dye. If dying your hair, only use semi-permanent and temporary dyes.

4. When dying and chemically relaxing your hair, seek the services of a professional hairstylist.

5. Chemically relax your hair no more often than every 12 weeks.

6. Consider going natural. However, avoid products with lavender and tea tree oils.

7. Before using a hair dye or chemical hair straightener, do your research. If there are any of the following substances within they should be avoided:

● Formaldehyde
● Phthalates
● Parabens
● Mineral oils
● Coal tar
● Triclosan
● Benzene
● Hydrogen Peroxide
● Heavy metals
● Bisphenol A

Ovarian and uterine cancers have also been linked to hair dyes and chemical hair straighteners.

Non-cancerous illnesses that are associated with hair products include dementia, asthma, reduced fertility, fibroids, endometriosis, allergies, and skin irritation.

1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.32738
2. Hair product use and breast cancer risk among African American and White women – PubMed (nih.gov)
3. Hair Products and Cancer Risk – NCI

Author: Dr. C. Malcolm Grant – Family Physician, c/o Family Care Clinic, Arnos Vale. For appointments: clinic@familycaresvg.com, 1(784)570-9300 (Office), 1(784)455-0376 (WhatsApp)
Disclaimer: The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you are seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Dr. C. Malcolm Grant, Family Care Clinic or The Searchlight Newspaper or their associates, respectively, are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information provided above.