Greying of hair is not just a sign of aging, but also sometimes is a result of environmental and lifestyle factors. While some like to embrace their salt and pepper to silver white hair look, some resort to using colouring products to dye their hair. Hair colouring is common among all age groups, but especially among 50+ age group, it sometimes is a necessity. Women tend to experiment more with colouring and highlighting their hair, but they are not gender restricted, a lot of men also colour their hair.

Do Hair Dyes Increase the Risk of Cancer?

The idea of hair dyes as a possible risk for various cancers has been floating around since a long time. Many studies have looked into this matter as well. But a recent study showed that permanent hair dye and chemical hair straightener use is directly linked to a higher risk of breast cancer.

For the study, conducted by the researchers of the National Institutes of Health and published in the International Journal of Cancer, the researchers followed 46,709 women for an average of more than eight years. They concluded that women who said they used permanent dye in the year before enrolling were 9% more likely to develop breast cancer than women who did not.

Chemical hair straighteners (used mostly by younger adults and a few older adults as well) put 18% women more at risk of developing breast cancer.

There was little or no increase in the risk of breast cancer among women who used temporary or semi-permanent hair dyes.

Around 1 in 8 women suffer from breast cancer. Cancer is the second most common disease in India with high mortality rates. The rate of incidence of breast cancer in people above 40 years of age has decreased considerably in the last 25 years, but unfortunately people in the 25-40 year age group are 48% more likely to develop cancer. Out of these, breast cancer alone forms 30.1% of all forms of cancer. In other words, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women in urban areas and the second highest in rural areas.

Also Read: Study: Can Coffee Reduce Risk of Liver Cancer?

What are the different types of hair dyes?

There are different types for hair dyes with different chemical compositions. People using hair dyes are exposed to its chemicals by skin contact. These are the three main types of dyes:

  1. Temporary dyes: These dyes, as the name suggests, last for only 1-2 washes. They do not penetrate the hair shaft and cover only the surface of the hair.
  2. Semi-permanent dyes: These dyes penetrate partially into the hair shaft and last for 5-10 washings. Usually these products are ammonia-free and parabens-free.
  3. Permanent dyes: These dyes change the chemical structure of the hair shaft to colour your hair. They are very popular because the colour of the dye lasts till the hair grows out. They have colouring agents like amines and phenols and hydrogen peroxide. Darker hair dyes contain more of such colouring agents.

Also Watch: Dr. Meenaz Khoja Talks about Skin and Hair Changes in Older Adults

Association, Not Cause

The important takeaway from this study is that permanent hair dyes are not the “cause” of breast cancer, but rather, they are “associated”. The women in the study already were at a higher risk relatively due to their family history.

Scientists are still unaware of what exactly causes cancer. There are many women who do not use any of these products, yet develop cancer.  However, these risks can be avoided by curbing tobacco and alcohol usage, working on obesity, and improving sedentary lifestyle choices.

Also Watch: Dr. Sanjay Deshmukh Talks About Cancer in India


The study noted that women who get their hair coloured in a professional setting like a salon were less likely to be at risk than those who did at home. This is because stylists are more careful not to expose their clients to potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

Permanent hair dyes contain more than 5,000 chemicals, most of which are not listed by the companies on the packaging. It is always better to colour your hair with natural hair colours like henna than using permanent hair dyes.

Also Read: 8 Natural Treatments for Healthy and Beautiful Hair in Older Adults

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