Although dyeing your hair may seem fashionable, new research indicates that the beauty ritual could be associated with an elevated risk of breast cancer.
In the U.S., there are only 30 chemicals for personal care products that have been partially banned. Presently, the safest market for hair coloring products in the world is Europe (1).
In the EU, there are over 100 hair dyes that are considered safe and authorized for use, while over 180 ingredients have been banned (2).
How Safe Are Hair Dyes?
A study by Kefah Mokbel, a London surgeon, showed that women who dye their hair are 14 % more likely to develop breast cancer (3). As a result, professor Mokbel advises women who still wish to color their hair, to limit this beauty routine to at most 2-5 times annually.
Another study that supported this idea was done at the Finnish Cancer Registry by Sanna Heikkinen. In the study 8,000 women with breast cancer were compared to a control group of 20,000 women. Heikkinen noted a 23% increase in breast cancer risk in those who dyed their hair regularly (4).
However, both Heikkinen and Mokbel emphasized that scientists are not sure about the cause-effect relationship.
Avoid Darker Shades of Hair Dye and Chemical relaxers
Hair dyes penetrate and bind with hair shafts; darker dyes require more of the potentially harmful coloring agents and are therefore more dangerous.
One study of 4,285 African-American and white women found a significant increase in breast cancer risk among black women who used dark shades of hair dye and white women who used chemical relaxers.
Black women who reported using dark hair dye had a 51 percent increased risk of breast cancer compared to black women who did not, while white women who reported using chemical relaxers had a 74 percent increased risk of breast cancer, the study found (5).
How Does Hair Dye Lead To Breast Cancer?
One probable explanation for the heightened risk is that specific chemicals present in hair dyes react with air pollutants to trigger the creation of tumors when continually used.
Back in 2000, a study conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California discovered that women who dyed their hair every month, have double the risk of developing bladder cancer (6). The research also discovered that the risk increases with extended use, and that hair stylists who work with dyes face an even greater risk.
These disturbing findings prompted an immediate evaluation by the European Commission. The results of the probe caused the Commission to withdraw their support for many hair dyes in Europe. As stated by the Commission at the time, there wasn’t enough evidence to vouch for the safety of hair coloring products. The Commission particularly emphasized their concern about the long-term consequences of PPD, or para-Phenylenediamine, a chemical used in conventional hair dyes (7).
The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also cautions against the hazards of para-phenylenediamine, stating, “Repeated or prolonged contact may cause skin sensitization. Repeated or prolonged inhalation exposure may cause asthma. The substance may have effects on the kidneys, resulting in kidney impairment.” (8)
Alternative Hair Dyes
The reality is, even in the wake of these revelations, not many women will easily give up dyeing their hair. Three-quarters of adult women in the U.S. color their hair, but it’s the hair care workers, exposed to noxious chemicals daily, who are most at risk (9).
Fortunately, there are various natural hair coloring products in the market. Some popular all-natural, non-toxic brands to try include EcoColors, Hairprint, Organic & Mineral, Logona, Sante, Good Dye Young and Naturigin.
According to Nicole Cothrun Venables, a Hollywood-based stylist, “Fruit, vegetable, and herb restorative color cocktails are excellent rinses that can be applied once per week to refresh your color,” she reports. “Tea, coffee and wine hair stains are also gentle ways to add subtle hints of opaque color, depth, highlights and shine.” You can check out her DIY hair color treatment recipes and techniques in her HuffPost article “7 Non-Toxic Solutions to Healthy Hair Color.”