Hair Dyes and Relaxers Linked to Breast Cancer — What You Need to Know

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A recent study conducted at Rutgers University in New Jersey has detected carcinogens in hair products and linked them to the incidence of breast cancer in a group of women.

4,285 women between the ages of 20 and 75 participated in the study. 2,280 of them (1,508 African American and 772 caucasian) had breast cancer, while 2,005 of them did not.

The researchers found that hair dyes in dark shades were the most likely to contribute to the development of cancer. Dark hair dyes were associated with a 51% increase in breast cancer risk for black women—and a 72% increased risk of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer.

White women, on the other hand, were more likely to be affected by chemical relaxers and straighteners, with a 74% increase in risk. Each woman’s individual estrogen-receptor status is also believed to contribute to how much impact relaxers and straighteners have on her cancer risk.

The results are interesting for the disparity they reveal between African American and caucasian women almost as much as they are for the surprising products they warn against. Professor and study lead author Adana Llanos has an idea about why these racial differences exist.

“One hypothesis is that the chemical composition of hair products marketed for and used among whites may differ from the products marketed for use by African-Americans.”

This isn’t the first study of its kind either, although it may be the first to study the racial difference. A study from the University of Helsinki had a similar result, giving us yet another reason to put down the hair dye. More research is still needed, however, to determine specifically which compounds and chemicals are responsible.

While this is less than fantastic information for women who use hair dye, relaxers, and straighteners, there is one bit of good news. It is one risk factor we have almost absolute control over, unlike age, genetics, and many other risk factors. Reducing your chances of developing breast cancer could be as simple as changing up your hair routine.

If you’ve been thinking about trying out a more natural look that requires less maintenance, now’s the time! Embrace the gray—or whatever color you’ve got. There’s a good reason!

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?