What? You probably think that’s a ridiculous statement, but researchers at the National Institute of Health just released the results of an eight-year study, and for dye and straightening lovers, it’s not good news. The study showed that permanent hair dyes and chemical hair straighteners may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
The study states that many hair products contain endocrine-disrupting compounds and carcinogens potentially relevant to breast cancer. The results are particularly alarming for black women who dye their hair. It showed that black women who used permanent dyes at least every five to eight weeks had a 60% percent increase in breast cancer risk compared to those who didn’t use dyes. For white women, the risk is only 8% higher. This may be due to a texture issue since black women tend to need much more dye to color their hair.
Regardless of race, those who use chemical straighteners regularly had a 31% higher risk of developing breast cancer.
I’m sorry to tell you this, but there’s more bad news when it comes to hair dye. The use of permanent hair dyes can also increase your risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia, especially if you started dyeing your hair before 1980 using dark colors. The chemicals in hair dyes were long known to be carcinogenic in animals, but it wasn’t until 1982 that all dyes were reformulated to exclude these chemicals. Those who went blond showed no risk increase.
If you’ve dyed your hair at least once a month for a year or longer, you’ve also doubled your odds of developing bladder cancer over those who didn’t. The risk triples if you’ve used permanent dye for 15 years or more.
The highest risk is to those that apply hair dye for a living, those who used hair dye prior to 1980, how often you dye your hair, and the colors you use. Dark colors like black and browns pose the most risk since they contain the most carcinogenic chemicals.
If you simply can’t give up your coloring habit, consider switching to henna, semi-permanent, or temporary dyes, which were not associated with an increased cancer risk.
If you DIY your hair dye, professionals encourage you to: keep the mixture on only as long as recommended; wear gloves at all times to minimize exposure to the toxic chemicals; try to keep the color off your scalp by applying with a brush or comb; avoid products that contain Para-phenylenediamine (PPD), resorcinol or triethanolamine; and rinse your scalp thoroughly with water after dyeing.
Of course, the safest course of action is not dyeing your hair at all, but I totally get that that isn’t an option for many women. This website rates hair dye (and other products) on how hazardous they are to your health. A score of 1 or 2 is low hazard and 7-10 is high hazard. You can scroll through their database to find products with low hazard ratings, or you can type in the name of your favorite color to check out its rating.
To test out their database, I typed in Clairol Permanent Root Touch Up and it returned with a hazard score of 7! Then I tried L’Oreal Age Perfect Permanent Color and found out it had a rating of 8! On the plus side, many of the lighter colors, like Light Red, Golden Brown, and Ash Blonde have a score of only 1 or 2. If you want to go darker, there is a company called Light Mountain Natural Hair Color and all of their products, regardless of color, rated a low hazard score of 1.
When all is said and done, regardless of studies, and regardless of potential risks (after all, doesn't most of what we eat, wear, and use come with risks?), do what's best for you. High self-esteem has been shown to be a powerful predictor of a longer and happier life, so maybe feeling better about yourself will balance the risk scales.
As for me, I have a pretty impressive family history of cancer and have already had a touch of the cancer myself, so I'll likely skip the dye and continue to let my hair turn it's own spectacular shade of white. And I plan on loving it!