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The Hidden Dangers of Hair Dyes and Straighteners | Deon Hall Garriques

Frequent use of hair dyes and straighteners can increase breast cancer risk in women due to the many chemicals they contain.

In fact, researchers have linked chemicals in hair dyes and straighteners to breast and uterine cancer. (See list of studies below)

There is no denying it, as women we want to continue to look our best and remain younger looking for as long as possible. 


And keeping the greys at bay and having straight hair are ways to maintain our youthful appearance. 


But at what cost? 


Is the quest to hide the greys and have straight hair damaging your health?

As menopausal women navigating the various hormonal changes, you must pay attention to the products you use on your body.

According to a survey about 40% of women worldwide use hair straighteners.

As research continues to point to the long-term health risks of chemical hair relaxers, aka “creamy crack,” many women particularly Black women have opted for wearing their hair natural. 


Chemicals in dyes and straighteners fall into 2 categories, carcinogens and hormone disrupters.  

  • Carcinogens are known to be linked to causing cancer. These chemicals include formaldehyde, lead acetate, and para-phenylenediamine (PPD).

  • Hormone (or endocrine) disruptors often affect how estrogen and other hormones function or they mimic how they behave. This can throw off the body’s natural hormonal balance. Other chemicals used in hair products include phthalates, parabens, and bisphenol A (BPA).

Will the safety of these products improve?

While there is some hope, most of the progress has occurred in Europe and not in the U.S.

Some chemicals have been banned from being used in hair products sold in the E.U. and other countries due to safety concerns. However, most of these chemicals have not been banned in the U.S.

So far, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the use of lead acetate in hair dyes in the U.S. in January 2023 and has proposed a ban on formaldehyde in hair straightening products.

Additionally, a recently passed law, the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022 (MoCRA), has given the FDA more authority to regulate the safety and labeling of hair products than it had in the past.

But, compared to many other countries, the regulatory oversight of the safety of the ingredients in these products in the U.S. remains loose.

The Evidence

Over the years, several studies have been conducted to determine the health risks associated with the chemicals in hair dyes and straighteners.

  • A study of U.S. women belonging to various ethnic groups published in the International Journal of Cancer in 2019 found an association between the use of hair dye and hair straighteners and breast cancer risk, especially for Black women. All the women in the study already had a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer, however, because they had at least one first-degree relative who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

  • A study published in the journal Carcinogenesis in 2021 looked at hair product use in Black women. The researchers found that, overall, there seems to be no link between hair relaxers and breast cancer risk in Black women. However, there was some evidence that heavy use (at least seven times a year for 15 or more years) of hair relaxers containing lye may be linked to a higher risk of breast cancer.

  • A study published in the journal BMJ in 2020 that included mostly white women found that longer-term use of permanent hair dye was associated with a greater risk of breast cancer.

  • A study published in the journal the International Journal of Cancer in 2020 suggested that frequent use of straighteners and perming products during adolescence may be linked to a higher risk of premenopausal breast cancer.

What's a Girl To Do?

  • Embrace the greys. A symbol of wisdom and has given some women very distinguished appearances.

  • Try a more natural alternative hair dye or those with less harmful chemicals. Check online for alternatives.

  • Know what products your beautician uses in your hair, ask questions, and demand cleaner products.

  • Go Natural. Particularly for Black women, Natural Hair is IN!

  • Opt for flat ironing your hair when you want to go straight.

  • The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a great resource. It is a not-for-profit organization that researches different products and assigns a rating based on the chemicals used in the products. You can use it as a resource to search for your products and see how they are rated, which can help you make product buying decisions. EWG Skin Deep Cosmetic Database is great for searching for cosmetic products.

While it's impossible to avoid all chemicals in beauty products, your best defense is to educate yourself about the products you're using and look for safer alternatives to protect your health against serious illnesses.

In Good Health,


DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide medical advice. The purpose is to provide education and a broader understanding to my readers. Always seek the advice of your qualified healthcare provider before making any dietary or lifestyle changes. I do not recommend or prescribe, or recommend changing dosage or discontinuing, any prescription medications or pharmaceutical drugs.


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