Research , Breast Cancer , Risk

Alan Stolier, MD/

The Impact Of Hair Dye And Chemical Straighteners On The Risk Of Breast Cancer

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It is estimated that one-third of women above the age of 18 use hair dye. Scientific evidence suggests that hair products contain more than 5000 chemicals, including some that are mutagenic and disrupt hormone levels. Treatment to straighten or relax hair are also rich in potentially harmful chemicals.

Recent studies reported a 25% excess risk increase for breast and bladder cancer associated with hair dye use. Many fewer studies have studied the risk related to straighteners used predominantly in women of African descent. A recent study by Eberle et al. at the National Cancer Institute evaluated 46,709 women for the association of hair dye and straighteners with the risk of breast cancer. Median follow-up was 8.3 years.

Fifty-five percent of cohort used hair dye. Women using dye tended to be younger, had fewer years of education, were more likely to smoke, and use oral contraceptives. Light-colored dye and dark-colored dye were associated with higher breast cancer risk. The risk increased with increasing frequency of use. In black women, any permanent dye use was associated with a 45% increase in breast cancer risk. Increased frequency of use elevated the risk. Black women who use dye every 5 to 8 weeks had a 60% higher risk of developing breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer was similar in black women using light and dark-colored dyes. This study was also consistent with results reported by the Women’s Circle of Health Study, which observed a similar increase in the use of permanent dark dye among African-American women. In white women, the risk of breast cancer was increased with light-colored dye (12%), but not with dark dyes.

Seventy-four percent of black women reporting use of straighteners compared to 3% of non-Hispanic white women. The use of straighteners was associated with an 18% higher breast cancer risk. More frequent use was associated with increased risk. Those reported using straighteners at least every 5 to 8 weeks had a 31% increase in the risk of breast cancer. Prior studies showed a higher concentrations of estrogen-disrupting compounds in hair products marketed to black women. In summary, the authors identified a 9% higher breast cancer risk for permanent dye use in all women. Nonprofessional application also increased risk likely due to skin absorption and inhalation of toxic fumes.

The researchers also noted that the formulation of popular straighteners has changed beginning in the early 2000s. Brazilian Keratin Treatments were introduced at that time, which contained formaldehyde, a known carcinogen or one of its derivatives that reacts with keratin when heated. This is the first study since the year 2000 which examined the impact of straighteners on breast cancer risk.

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