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Does Hair Dye Cause Breast Cancer?

According to researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Services, “many hair products contain endocrine-disrupting compounds and carcinogens potentially relevant to breast cancer.”

There are three types of hair dyes:

  • Temporary dyes that only cover the surface of your hair, but don’t penetrate the hair shaft
  • Semi-permanent dyes that do penetrate the hair shaft, but wash out after five to 10 washings
  • Permanent hair dyes that cause long-lasting chemical changes in the hair shaft

AIDS Ribbon

According to the American Cancer Society, permanent hair dyes contain colorless substances, including aromatic amines and phenols, that become dyes in the presence of hydrogen peroxide. A chemical reaction occurs, allowing the substance to permanently dye your hair until it grows out.

Environmental Working Group provides the following health risks of common hair dye ingredients:

  1. Ammonia: Respiratory irritant and potential endocrine disruptor
  2. Hydrogen peroxide: Respiratory and skin irritant; may burn skin, damage eyes and cause allergic reaction
  3. P-phenylenediamine: Potential carcinogen that causes organ system and blood toxicity; may cause allergies and immunotoxicity; causes occupational hazards
  4. Resorcinol: Potential endocrine disruptor and carcinogen that may cause allergies and immunotoxicity; contributes to occupational hazards, and may cause skin, eyes and lung irritation
  5. Toluene-2,5-diamine sulfate: Potential carcinogen and immunotoxic agent
  6. Methylisothiazolinone: May cause neurotoxicity, irritation and immunotoxicity
  7. Artificial fragrance: High potential for allergic reactions and immunotoxicity; potential cause of organ system toxicity
  8. Methylparaben: Potential endocrine disruptor and may cause biochemical or cellular level changes
  9. 1-Naphthol: Potential carcinogen; may cause immunotoxicity and irritation
  10. Ethanolamine: May cause organ system toxicity, irritation and allergic reactions

Purple Hair Dye

How do these chemicals work together to permanently dye your hair?

First, ammonia (or ethanolamines when using an ammonia-free product) pulls apart the many layers of hair proteins, allowing for the dye to penetrate the hair shaft. Then hydrogen peroxide strips the hair and helps coloring agents, like p-phenylenediamine, to dye the hair.

Many of the dyes found in permanent hair dyes are called coal tar dyes and are usually formed as a by-product of hydrocarbon solvents. During the combustion or burning of coal, a thick brown-black liquid is generated. This chemical material is then used in cosmetic ingredients as dying agents, although they are known to have carcinogenic effects.

1. Use Natural Hair Lighteners

Instead of stripping your hair with hydrogen peroxide, try using ingredients that lighten your hair naturally. Some totally safe and surprising ingredients that you can use to lighten your hair include:

  • Chamomile
  • Baking soda
  • Lemon
  • Raw apple cider vinegar
  • Sea salt

Generally, applying any of these ingredients to your hair and leaving it on for 20 to 60 minutes will help to lighten your hair without the danger of hydrogen peroxide.

2. Cover Grays or Go Darker With Henna

Henna powder is a safer, more natural alternative to permanent hair dye. Henna is a pure plant dye, so it doesn’t contain any chemicals. Of course, you’ll want to purchase henna powder from a reputable company and read the ingredients carefully.

To use henna powder, it needs to be combined with a ½ cup or more of boiling water. Then allow the mixture to sit overnight. When you apply it the next day, let it sit for around two to three hours and then rinse well.

Be sure to wear gloves when working with henna, and avoid dying your skin by applying a barrier oil (like coconut oil) along your hairline. Just be sure to do a patch test to ensure that you like the color and you don’t experience any allergic or adverse reactions to the henna.

3. Go A Shade Darker With Coffee

Did you know that a cup of joe can serve as a natural hair dye for anyone looking to go a bit darker? It won’t have the same effects as permanent hair dye, but it will give your hair a little boost when you need it.

All you have to do is mix brewed dark-roast coffee with coffee grounds and any natural leave-in conditioner. Apply your concoction to your clean, damp hair and let it sit for at least an hour. Then wash it out.

Coffee Mugs

4. Use Natural Keratin Hair Products

Using natural shampoos, conditioners and hair masks with keratin can help to smooth your hair and make it easier to straighten. Keratin works to repair your hair, giving damaged strands a much smoother and healthier appearance.

There are a number of keratin hair products on the market. As always, go with a reputable company that values using natural, non-toxic ingredients. Check the EWG Skindeep database for safer options.

5. Try A Natural Deep Conditioner

Have you ever used natural, toxic-free oils in your hair to add shine and tame frizz? Argan oil and coconut oil are both hydrating and healing oils that can help to give your hair a smooth look and feel.

Simply warm about a teaspoon of either oil in the palm of your hands and then massage it into your hair and scalp. Put a shower cap on and sleep like that for the night. In the morning, wash your hair as usual.

Final Thoughts

Based on data collected in the Sister Study, researchers found a connection between permanent hair dye use and increased breast cancer risk. Hair straightening is also been linked to breast cancer development.

Hand on chest

Researchers found that African American women who dyed their hair every five to eight faced the highest risk of breast cancer.

Emerging findings suggest chemical hair products do play a role in cancer risk, but we know that this isn’t the only factor that contributes to a person’s risk.


Hair Dyeing Process

Avoiding hair products that are made with toxic chemicals, especially permanent hair dyes and straighteners, is surely one way you can work to reduce your risk of breast cancer.