Many American women, as well as a small but increasing number of men, use hair dyes. You may have come upon rumors about a link between using hair dye and getting cancer. Many studies have looked at hair dyes as a possible risk factor for various types of cancer. Here we will discuss what the research shows so that you can make choices that are comfortable for you.
In May 2005, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a comprehensive study revealing that there may be a small link between hair dye use and blood cell cancers (including myeloma, lymphoma or some types of lymphoblastic leukemia). But the results of this paper show that if there is any increase in risk, it must be extremely small. In 2008 a more recent large international study reported that women who began using hair dye before 1980 had a slightly increased risk of some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – follicular lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia or small lymphocytic lymphoma. The increased risk was in women who used dark-colored dyes.
This is due to the fact that a lot of hair dyes made before 1980 contained chemicals that were known to cause cancer in mice. Since 1980, hair dyes have changed dramatically and many no longer contain these cancer causing chemicals (carcinogens).
On the other hand, a number of studies have been conducted so as to detect a possible link between permanent hair dye and an increased risk of bladder cancer. Researcher Dr Manuela Gago-Dominguez of the University of Southern California School of Medicine in Los Angeles and her colleagues conducted a series of studies on bladder patients and healthy women, all of the same age, and found a link between bladder cancer and hair dye. Those who reported regular use of the hair dye for at least 15 years were more than three times as likely to develop bladder cancer as non-dye users, concluded the study. Even some hairstylists and barbers were 50 per cent more likely to have bladder cancer than those who did not experience occupational exposure.
But according to Dr John Corbett, a consultant to the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, Dr Gago-Dominguez and her team may have used a faulty study design.
‘Their measure of exposure is just frequency of use and duration of use, which is not very good,‘ said Dr Corbett.
He added: ‘The most important factor in exposure to hair dye is the shade you use.’
‘All of the shades use essentially the same chemicals, but there’s quite a lot more of them in dark brown and black than there are in blonde.‘
Also, Corbett contends that the researchers seem to make light of previous studies by the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society that failed to find a similar association between hair dye use and cancer risk.
He said: ‘The bottom line is I don’t think the new study findings should affect people in their decision as to whether to use hair color or affect the hair color industry in considering that they sell safe products.‘
The major concern remains for salon workers who are exposed to hair dyes, both permanent and semi-permanent, on a daily basis, but even here the evidence of harm is still being debated and investigated.
These studies should give reassurance that the link between using modern hair dyes and cancer is, at most, very minimal. Further research is needed to investigate whether certain subgroups may be at increased risk, such as those with a genetic predisposition. People who color their hair are unlikely to have an increased risk of cancer, even if they have been coloring their hair regularly for many years. If you are still concerned, ensure that you color your hair in a well ventilated room or salon, so as to minimize exposure to the fumes from hair dyes. Otherwise, embrace your natural color.