What To Know Before You Dye Your Hair

I know you’ve dyed your hair. Most of us do! In fact, it’s estimated that up to 75% of woman and 10% of men use hair-coloring products. However, a recent article in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology “reviews the evidence relating personal hair-dye use to the risk of developing several type of malignancies.” In other words, those scientists asked: Is there any evidence out there that using hair dye can cause cancer?

Several studies have demonstrated that direct application of some of the chemicals found in hair dye can cause cancer in lab animals, but does this translate to humans? In the 1980′s some of these cancer-causing chemicals were banned from hair dye in the US. However, similar compounds can still be found in certain hair dyes currently on the market.

The authors reviewed 60+ studies on the topic. For most of the cancers examined, studies did not demonstrate an increased risk from hair dye use.

However, a couple of associations were seen. First, there was an increased risk of non-hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), among women who used hair dye prior to the 1980s, and who used permanent, dark colored dyes for more than 15 years. One study showed increased risk of the follicular type of NHL in women who used dark colored dyes regardless of the year of use.

Second, the authors also reviewed articles that demonstrated a statistically significantly increased risk of certain tumors in children whose mothers used hair dye during pregnancy.

The writers concluded there may be an increased risk of NHL from hair dyes made of darker colors and increased number of exposures to such dyes and there may be an increased risk of childhood malignancy from hair-dye use in pregnancy.

The authors suggested a couple of anecdotal tips to decrease risk: before dying your hair “apply a petroleum-based ointment to the scalp” so as to minimize the dye’s contact with that skin. Also, “reduce the time of dye application by 25% for each dying session.” And finally, if you are pregnant, play it safe and avoid hair dye all together!

Saitta P, Cook CE, Messina JL, Brancaccio R, Wu BC, Grekin SK, Holland J. Is there a true concern regarding the use of hair dye and malignancy development? A review of the epidemiological evidence relating personal hair dye use to the risk of malignancy. The Journal of Clinical and Aethetic Dermatology. 6(1):39-46, 2013

photo by: Nathan O'Nions