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Beauty products and cancer: Are you at risk?

Focused on Health - July 2012

beauty products hair cancerby Adelina Espat

Have you been unknowingly increasing your cancer risks for the sake of beauty?

It depends on what beauty products you use. Some studies show certain beauty products used at salons may be linked to cancer.

But don’t cancel your beauty appointment just yet. Instead, our health experts advise that you get informed and take proper precautions as needed.

Here’s what you need to know.

Hair dyes: cancer risk unclear

Hair dye products include close to 5,000 chemicals, including some that might cause cancer. Researchers have been studying the possible cancer link for decades.

In the mid to late 70s, scientists found chemicals in hair dye that caused cancer in animals. Luckily, hair dye makers have removed some of these chemicals since then. But, scientists aren’t sure if the remaining chemicals used in hair dye cause cancer.

In fact, the National Cancer Institute says research on cancer and current hair dye use is limited and conflicting. And, the Working Group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that personal use of hair dyes is “not classifiable” as cancer-causing.

In other words, it’s unclear if using hair dyes ups your cancer risk.

Bottom line: If you frequently dye your hair, be mindful of what’s in the product you use. You can find out if your favorite hair dye has cancer-causing chemicals in the National Toxicology Program’s 12th Report on Carcinogens.

Hair straightening products: high cancer risk for some

beauty products hair cancerUse hair straightening or smoothing products like the Brazilian Blowout? Beware. Some of these products contain formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing chemical.

If you work in a beauty salon, this is especially bad news. That’s because the cancer risk is high for people regularly exposed to formaldehyde in the workplace. For stylists, the risk is highest when the product is being applied.

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Hazard Alert to hair salon owners and workers about the health risks tied to working with these products.

If you’re a customer who uses hair straightening products with formaldehyde, your cancer risk is low. But, the National Cancer Institute still advises caution.

Bottom line: If you plan to use a hair straightening product, read the product label first and try to avoid those that list formaldehyde as an ingredient. Take note: one of these words could be used instead of formaldehyde:

  • Methylene glycol
  • Formalin
  • Methylene oxide
  • Paraform
  • Formic aldehyde
  • Methanal
  • Oxomethane
  • Oxymethylene
  • CAS Number 50-00-0

UV nail lamps: more research needed

beauty products UV nails cancerUltraviolet (UV) rays from tanning beds increase your risk for skin cancer. So, could this also be true for UV nail lights? These are devices salons used to speed up the drying time of polish.

Deborah F. MacFarlane, M.D., professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Dermatology, believes there may be a cancer tie. In a 2009 paper published in the Archives of Dermatology, she and Carol Alonso, M.D., explain, “It appears that exposure to UV nail lights is a risk factor for the development of skin cancer.”

MacFarlane bases this observation on two women who developed skin cancer on their hands. Both women used UV nail lamps.

Bottom line: “More research needs to be done to confirm there’s a link between UV nail lights and skin cancer,” says MacFarlane. She suggests using non-UV options for drying your nails for now.

Have a beauty and cancer question? Post it on our Facebook page, and we’ll get you an answer.

Related links
Beauty Products and Cancer: Know the Facts (National Cancer Institute)
Hair Dyes and Cancer Risk (National Cancer Institute)
Hair Dyes (American Cancer Society)

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