Breast Cancer & Hair Dye

Tim Newman recently published an article that was fact-checked by Jasmin Collier and published in Medical News Today on the risk of breast cancer with the use of hair dye.

There has been a recent study investigating the links between hair products and breast cancer that has caused quite a stir. Breast cancer affects about 1 in 8 women during their lifetime so this subject needs to be put into perspective.

The incidence rates among non-Hispanic white women have historically been higher than among the non-Hispanic black women, but the rate of this cancer among black women has increased. Black women are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive tumor subtypes and to die after a breast cancer diagnosis, according to a new study. They are trying to pin down the risk factors that are associated with breast cancer and why race-related disparities occur. This study appears in the International Journal of Cancer and focuses on hair products. They are specifically looking at hair dye and chemical hair straighteners that permanently or semi-permanently relax the hair.

There have been several studies hinting at hair products’ potential role in cancer as they contain more than 5,000 chemicals along with mutagenic and endocrine-disrupting properties. Some studies have shown certain chemicals in hair dye can induce tumors in the mammary glands of rats.

They have found inconsistent results in their studies involving an association between hair products and breast cancer in humans. Study authors at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences took a fresh look at this and included hair straighteners that are predominately used by women of African descent.

Hair ingredients tend to vary depending on if the manufacturers market them to white or black women, and they wonder if this plays a part in the disparity in breast cancer. Data was taken from the Sister Study including information from 50,884 women aged 35 to 74 who have followed an average of 8.3 years. They had no personal history of breast cancer but at least one sister receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. Many variables were included, such as age, menopausal status, socioeconomic status, and reproductive history as well as the participants’ use of hair care products.

Those who used hair dye regularly in the 12 months before enrolling were 9% more likely to develop breast cancer. Those receiving the products every 5-8 weeks had an increased risk. Among white women, the risk increased by 8% but among black women, the increase was 60%. No risk was found in the use of semipermanent or temporary dyes.

The reported relative risk of a 60% increase in breast cancer among black women is a significant result. Other factors may not be accounted for in the analysis. We are all exposed to many things that could contribute to breast cancer and most likely not one single factor explains a woman’s risk, according to study co-author Dale Sandler, Ph.D. Avoiding these chemicals might be one thing women can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

Dr Fredda Branyon