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A harrowing study of 46,000 women shows hair dyes are heavily associated with cancer

A harrowing study of 46,000 women shows hair dyes are heavily associated with cancer
[Photo: Ashton Bingham/Unsplash]

You know how you don’t see very old people with dyed hair? There may be a reason for that: Hair dye is heavily associated with cancer.

A study published yesterday in the Journal of Cancer tracked 46,709 women ages 35-74 over eight years. The results are particularly harrowing for black women: those who used permanent dyes at least every 5-8 weeks had a 60% higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who did not; white women were 8% more likely to develop breast cancer.

Chemical straighteners also proved problematic: Women who used straighteners every 5-8 weeks were 30% more likely to develop breast cancer. Straighteners are much more commonly used among black women. (In the study, 74% of black women had, versus 3% of white women.)

This, of course, creates an immediate grooming crisis for those feeling career pressure to look eternally young. You can see helpful photos of 14 people with their hair both dyed and gray (hint: the gray-heads look fine!), and here’s how to go gray.

Hair dyes have long been known to “contain endocrine-disrupting compounds and carcinogens,” say the researchers, who hypothesize that the formulations used on black hair may include more hormonally active compounds, and that thicker, coarser hair may absorb more dyes.

“While it is too early to make a firm recommendation, avoiding these chemicals might be one more thing women can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer,” says coauthor Dale Sandler, chief of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch.

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