Does hair dye use increase the risk of cancer?

There is no convincing scientific evidence that personal hair dye use increases the risk of cancer. Some studies suggest, however, that hairdressers and barbers who are regularly exposed to large quantities of hair dye and other chemical products may have an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Why is there concern that hair dyes may cause cancer?

Many people all over the world use hair dyes. It is estimated that more than one-third of women over age 18 and about 10 percent of men over age 40 use some type of hair dye.

Over 5,000 different chemicals are used in hair dye products, some of which are reported to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) in animals. Because so many people use hair dyes, scientists have tried to determine whether exposure to the chemicals in hair coloring products is associated with an increased risk of cancer in people.

Over the years, some epidemiologic (population) studies have found an increased risk of bladder cancer in hairdressers and barbers.  Although some studies have linked the personal use of hair dyes with increased risks of certain cancers of the blood and bone marrow, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and leukemia, other studies have not shown such links. Studies of breast and bladder cancer have also produced conflicting results.

What do the scientists have to say?

There have been several conflicting results in various case studies. Some scientists believe that there was a change in the contents of hair dyes in the 1970’s and they are much safer now as the previous contents included cancer causing amines. For instance, they found that hair dye users had increased risks of both follicular lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma. For the most part, the increases were limited to women who began using hair dye before 1980, although an increased risk of follicular lymphoma was observed among women who began using dark-colored dyes after 1980. Along the same lines, some others believe that users of black permanent dyes, but not of other color dyes, did have an increased risk of leukemia.  Also, because studies have shown that professional hairdressers have an increased risk of bladder cancer that may be due to occupational exposure to hair dye, researchers will continue to study whether personal hair dye use is related to bladder cancer risk.

What is the final verdict?

No. Although there have been varying opinions, majority of the individuals and institutions working on this issue have concluded that personal use of hair dyes is “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”. Nevertheless, do not completely ignore the symptoms if any as there are always exceptions. Precaution is better than cure; take the right measures, visit your oncologist regularly and prevent cancer.

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