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Permanent hair dyes may increase the risk of certain cancers, study finds

While these products don’t increase the risk of most cancers, they can come with some health risks

Photo (c) Adam_Lazar - Getty Images
While many consumers use hair dye to switch up their current look or to mask aging hair, a new study is exploring the health risks associated with using such products. According to researchers, permanent hair dyes don’t increase the risk for all types of cancers or related deaths; however, there are certain types of cancers that are more likely when consumers regularly use hair dyes. 

“This prospective cohort study among mostly white U.S. women offers some reassurance against concerns that personal use of permanent hair dyes might be associated with increased risk of mortality,” the researchers wrote. “However, we did find a positive association for risk of some cancers, including basal cell carcinoma, breast cancer (estrogen receptor negative, progesterone receptor negative, hormone receptor negative), and ovarian cancer.” 

Knowing the health risks

The researchers conducted a study that followed over 117,000 women for 36 years to determine how their exposure to hair dye affected their likelihood of developing cancer. They drew data from the Nurses’ Health Study and tracked how often the women used permanent hair dyes and their subsequent health outcomes. 

Ultimately, the risk for most cancers and related deaths were low. Compared to those who never used hair dye, those who regularly dyed their hair showed no increased risk for developing several types of cancer, including cancers of the kidneys, lungs, or bladder, among several others. 

However, the researchers did find some health risks associated with using permanent hair dyes. In looking at various strains of skin cancer and breast cancer, the researchers noted that exposure to hair dye yielded mixed results. Some types of skin and breast cancer -- like basal cell carcinoma and estrogen receptor negative -- increased the risk of cancer, while others showed no increased risk -- like melanoma and hormone receptor positive. The researchers found that hair dye may also increase the risk for ovarian cancer. 

Ultimately, the risk for disease was higher the more times that women dyed their hair. 

Different hair colors could be affected differently

An interesting finding from this study was that women with different hair colors had different health results. For example, women with naturally darker hair were more likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma, while women with naturally lighter hair were more susceptible to basal cell carcinoma. 

“Possible explanations could be that shades of permanent hair dye are associated with the concentration of ingredients, with darker colours having higher concentrations,” the researchers said

The researchers want to do more work in this area to better understand how natural hair color and exposure to hair dye could play a role in disease risk. 

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