The Recent Research around Cancer & Permanent Hair Dye and Chemical Hair Straighteners
Updated: Apr 8
Various media outlets, including the New York Times, covered a story in late 2019 related to the finding that women who use permanent hair dye and chemical hair straighteners have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who do not use these products. What the researchers found was that women who regularly used permanent hair dye in the year before enrolling in the study were 9% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who did not use the products. Those women who used chemical hair straighteners at least every five to eight weeks were about 30% more likely to develop breast cancer.
The research team found little to no increase in breast cancer risk for semi-permanent or temporary dye use. Researchers have been studying the possible link between hair dye and cancer for a long time, but results have been inconsistent. Some other experts are saying that it still may be too early to make these linkages.
This totally shook my world. A couple things really got me thinking and fired up:
1) What is this study and how come I have never heard of it?
The Sisters Study is run by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which is one of the National Institutes of Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The key investigators are Dale P. Sandler, PhD in the Chief of Epidemiology Branch and Clarice Weinberg, PhD in the Chief of Biostatistics Branch. They are the researchers and team behind the findings published in the above paragraphs. From 2003 to 2009, more than 50,000 women across the US and Puerto Rico, who were between ages 35–74 and whose sister had breast cancer, joined this landmark research effort to find causes of breast cancer.
Breast cancer is a serious disease that will affect 1 in 8 women in the US over their lifetimes. The Sister Study will give us valuable information about the different reasons women get breast cancer. This information may help us learn about ways to prevent breast cancer.
2) As a woman who tries to stay in the know, how come I was not aware of clean beauty and the harm of dying my hair?
After my shock of reading these findings and learning about the Sister Study, that same week, I picked up my Bath & Body Works lotion and saw not one, not two, but three different kinds of parabens in the lotion I was putting on my skin that day, along with other chemicals I could not pronounce or distinguish. Many chemicals in beauty products mimic the hormone estrogen, including parabens, which is commonly used as a preservative. Estrogen can fuel some types of breast cancer, and potentially other health conditions. My search led me down a path to realize that many countries have already banned these products, including the European Union, who bans over 1,300 chemicals. I also realized rather quickly that the U.S. has no real oversight over what goes into our beauty products.
In the next few weeks, I will be posting more about Clean Beauty, what it is, and how you can go about starting to look into it. Stay tuned and write to Sara at BoldBeatsFitness@gmail.com to let us know about what you want to hear about.
3) How is this impacting women of color and communities of color differently?
Ring the alarm bells. The Sisters Study also highlighted an alarming finding that among African American women, using permanent dyes every five to eight weeks or more was associated with a 60% increased risk of breast cancer compared with an 8% increased risk for white women.
According to commentary from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, African American consumers purchase 9 times more ethnic hair and beauty products than other groups and disproportionately purchase hair relaxers and straighteners. Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic beauty market segment, and Asian Americans spend 70% more than the national average on skin care products.
This leads me to wonder, who is studying to check for these differences in communities of color? Where is the affordable and accessible clean beauty products that anyone could afford?
My aim was to inform the community I interact with intimately. I will be doing some 101 guides, glossary of terms, and list of clean beauty products in the next few weeks. It is our job as a community to share with other women. Please take one minute now to share this post with another woman.
3. Eberle CE, Sandler DP, Taylor KW, White AJ. 2019. Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in a large U.S. population of black and white women. Int J Cancer; doi: 10.1002/ijc.32738 [Online 4 December 2019].