Experts and consumers have expressed concerns about a link between hair products and breast cancer for years.
Some hair dye and hair straightening treatments like relaxers contain chemicals called endocrine disrupters that can interfere with your hormones.
We talked to Abenaa Brewster, M.D., M.H.S., professor in MD Anderson’s department of Clinical Cancer Prevention, for advice if you’re thinking about dying or straightening your hair.
What does research say about hair products and cancer?
For many years research has been inconclusive when it comes to hair products, with some studies confirming a cancer link and others not.
Now one large study has shown women who used permanent hair dye were 9% more likely to develop breast cancer.
For women who used hair straightening or relaxing chemicals regularly, breast cancer risk increased 31%.
“This is just one study, but it is a good study,” says Brewster. “It means that there is an association, but it may not be very strong. What we need now is more research to support this.”
The study focused on women who had a sister who had breast cancer. The results might not be the same for women with no family history of the disease.
Hair products, breast cancer and race
The differences in risk were more striking when the results were split by race. African American women who used hair dye every 6-8 weeks were 60% more likely to develop breast cancer.
The increased risk may not be due to genetics. Brewster says the issue is likely the kind of dye used. The trend showed the higher increase in risk was for women dying their hair darker, not those dying their hair lighter.
“African American women are more likely to dye their hair darker,” says Brewster. “Whatever is in those products may be more of a problem than what is in the products that make your hair lighter.”
Should you use permanent hair dye?
More research needs to be done before we can say for sure that chemicals in hair products cause cancer.
“Cutting back on hair dye and straightening is potentially one of many things that you could do to reduce your risk for breast cancer,” says Brewster. “But there are other changes you can make that would be more significant.”
If you want to reduce your risk for breast cancer and other cancers, the best thing to do is to follow a healthy lifestyle.
“Many studies show that maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, reducing your alcohol intake and eating a healthy diet significantly reduce your risk for breast cancer,” says Brewster.
Here are all nine ways that have been proven to reduce your risk for cancer.