Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that women who use permanent hair dye and chemical hair straighteners may have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who do not use these products. The study, published by Eberle et al in the International Journal of Cancer, suggests that breast cancer risk increased with more frequent use of these chemical hair products.1
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Breast Cancer Risk and Use of Permanent Hair Dye
Using data from 46,709 women in the Sister Study, researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of NIH, found that women who regularly used permanent hair dye in the year prior to enrolling in the study were 9% more likely than women who did not use hair dye to develop breast cancer.2 Among African American women, using permanent dyes every 5 to 8 weeks or more was associated with a 60% increased risk of breast cancer as compared with an 8% increased risk for white women. The research team found little to no increase in breast cancer risk for semipermanent or temporary dye use.
Alexandra White, PhD
“Researchers have been studying the possible link between hair dye and cancer for a long time, but results have been inconsistent,” corresponding study author Alexandra White, PhD, said in a news release. Dr. White is Head of the Environment and Cancer Epidemiology Group at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “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.”
Dr. White and colleagues also found that women who used chemical hair straighteners at least every 5 to 8 weeks were about 30% more likely to develop breast cancer. Although the association between straightener use and breast cancer was similar in African American and white women, straightener use was much more common among African American women.
Among the findings reported by the investigators, women who regularly used permanent hair dye in the year prior to enrolling in the study were 9% more likely than women who did not use hair dye to develop breast cancer. Among African American women, using permanent dyes every 5 to 8 weeks or more was associated with a 60% increased risk of breast cancer as compared with an 8% increased risk for white women. And further, women who used hair straighteners at least every 5 to 8 weeks were about 30% more likely to develop breast cancer.
Further Data Needed
Study coauthor Dale Sandler, PhD, Chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the Environment and Cancer Epidemiology Group, said that although there is some prior evidence to support the association with chemical straighteners, these results need to be replicated in other studies.
Dale Sandler, PhD
When asked if women should stop dyeing or straightening their hair, Dr. Sandler explained: “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.” ■
Disclosure: The authors reported no conflicts of interest.
1. Eberle CE, Sandler DP, Taylor KW, et al: Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in a large US population of black and white women. Int J Cancer. December 3, 2019 (early release online).
2. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: The Sister Study. Available at https://sisterstudy.niehs.nih.gov/English/index1.htm. Accessed December 16, 2019.