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Will Hair Dyes Give You Cancer?

Woman Applying Hair Dye to Her Hair at Home

Hair dyes are under the microscope!   

With cancer rates on the rise in the United States, many women are worried that chemicals in hair dyes will put them at risk.  To ease your concerns, companies have begun marketing “natural” and “organic” products.  Most women are now left with the question, “Can my hair dye give me cancer or is it all a bunch of hype?”

The good news is that you can keep coloring your hair!  Many studies have been conducted in the past 30 years to test hair dyes for the risk of cancer.  So far, there is absolutely no confirming evidence that hair dyes cause cancer.

Where did the rumor start?

In the 1960’s, one study found an increased risk for urinary bladder cancer in male hairdressers.  Even though the results of the study were never confirmed in previous or subsequent investigations, the issue became a focus and scientists began testing the ingredients of hair dyes in laboratories.  Two chemicals were identified as carcinogens in rats, and those chemicals were removed in the mid1970’s.

a study of hair stylists found increased cancer rates for lung and larynx cancers, bladder cancer, and multiple myeloma.  However, this study had several limitations.  The first problem was that the study was a retrospective case study, meaning that the cases of cancer were found by looking at historical medical files to find people who were hair stylists.

This leads to the second problem.  These historical documents are missing other critical information about the case (i.e. length of time in career, whether the person was a hair colorist or a barber, etc.).

The third problem is that hair stylists, as a population, are exposed to other risk factors, environmentally and behaviorally, that would cause certain cancers.  For example, smoking and binge-drinking are common among people in service professions; a majority of hair salons are located in older buildings that have sub-standard ventilation; and most hairdressers work in urban locations.

Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Ribbon

Many other studies have produced varied results when lab animals are fed hair dye chemicals. (Note also, is ingesting a chemical dye relevant to putting it on your hair?)  Results are varied based on type of animal and amount of chemical.  The most recent findings by the International Agency on Research of Cancer, (IARC) are that the arylamines in oxidative hair dyes (chemicals that cause cancer when fed to animals) are NOT toxic to humans when absorbed or inhaled.

Should I use “organic” or “natural” hair color to be safe?

At this time there is no evidence that the new class of “organic” hair dyes are any safer than typical hair dyes.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Most of these products contain the same ingredients that are in question in other hair dyes.  As of today, any new ingredients simply have not been tested long enough to determine a cancer risk.

So what’s the bottom line?  Don’t be fooled by marketing scare tactics and be rest assured that there is no cancer epidemic due to hair dyes today as we speak.


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Hair color risk for pregnant women?

Hair Color

Back Off a Bit on Intense Hair Color Just in Case

This is a dilemma for pregnant women who want to continue hair color during pregnancy, unfortunately even the experts seem to disagree. The official position of the FDA on the question of cancer risk from hair color dyes as inconclusive.

There has been no evidence to prove coloring your hair during pregnancy is harmful to the baby. Many will suggest holding off hair color till after the first trimester. Although the scalp may absorb a miniscule amount of chemicals, the fumes may be considered  the bigger risk.

If I had to advise a friend or a client, I would suggest taking their own doctors advice. An alternative to hair color would be foiling or tipping, where the hair color dye doesn’t come in contact with the scalp.

But I liked the answer my girlfriends doctor gave her when asked the question, “Can I color my hair while I’m pregnant?” He said, “What color?”

For more Information on the topic visit:

Mayo Clinic

The Baby Center


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