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Hair Dyes and Risk of Breast Cancer in Women

Hair Dyes and Breast Cancer

A recent dissertation asserts that hair dyes contribute to an increased risk of breast cancer. Learn more here.


Researcher Sanna Heikkinen of the University of Helsinki has conducted an analysis of self-reported survey data among 8000 breast cancer patients and 20,000 controls in Finland and has determined that there was a 23% observed increase in the risk of breast cancer among women who dyed their hair compared to those who didn’t.

For those of us trying to cover the grays or have more fun as a blond or redhead – should we worry about this report?

First, Heikkinen notes that this is an observed study result from a specific population and that more prospective studies are needed to confirm if there is in fact a link between hair dyes and breast cancer risk.

Second, she notes that even if a slight increased risk exists, it should be emphasized that there are other factors more closely observed to increase breast cancer such as age, high alcohol consumption and a sedentary lifestyle.

What does the American Cancer Society say?

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After evaluating the available data, they state that most studies do not find a strong link between consumer hair dye use and breast cancer risk – although they do admit that more studies are needed because hair colorings contain thousands of different chemicals and that these formulations are constantly changing.

Back in the late 1970’s, the ACS states, hair dyes did contain certain chemicals found to cause cancer in lab animals, including aeromatic amines. Manufacturers have since changed the chemical makeup of their products. So studies conducted prior to 1980 may reflect a past risk factor, and today’s hair colorings are safer when it comes to cancer risk.

Additionally, it should be noted that past studies linking hair coloring to increased risk of cancers such as blood cancers and bladder cancers were conducted on women who used hair dyes in the workplace, such as hairdressers and barbers. Obviously, the contact with harmful chemicals in addition to inhalation of fumes would be a greater problem than in women who use the products more infrequently.

The American Cancer Society suggests the following steps to help limit exposure to hair dye chemicals if you are concerned about increasing the risk of cancer:

• Follow the directions in the package. Pay attention to all “Caution” and “Warning” statements.
• Be sure to do a patch test EVERY TIME for allergic reactions before putting the dye in your hair. (Some people become more allergic to certain ingredients the more they are exposed. You may not have an allergic reaction the first time you use a product but you may the second or even third time, so it is important to keep checking.)
• Wear gloves when applying hair dye to reduce skin contact.
• Don’t leave the dye on your head any longer than the directions say you should.
• Rinse your scalp thoroughly with water after use.
• Never mix different hair dye products. This can hurt your hair and scalp.
• Never use hair dye to dye your eyebrows or eyelashes.
• You may want to try a newer vegetable-based product that contains fewer chemicals, although you should know that these may not last as long.
• The ACS notes that darker dyes have a greater number of chemicals of concern, so you may want to stick to medium to light colors if you do decide for a new look.

University of Helsinki. "Hormonal contraceptives and hair dyes increase breast cancer risk." ScienceDaily, 9 March 2017.
The American Cancer Society

Photo Credit:
By bradleypjohnson (originally posted to Flickr], via Wikimedia Commons