The holidays are upon us and that means looking good and feeling good while you celebrate. A new study, however, may have many of us thinking twice about our hair before heading to the salon for that “holi-do”.
Could permanent hair dye really be causing breast cancer? Researchers at the National Institutes of Health think so. They followed more than 46,000 women who either colored their hair or used chemical straighteners for a little over eight years. The results were alarming. At the end of the study, 2,794 breast cancers were identified.
Women who reported using permanent hair dye in the year prior to enrolling in the study were nine percent more likely to develop breast cancer when compared with those who did not use any dye. For African-American women, the results were higher. They saw a 45-percent increased risk for breast cancer compared to Caucasian women who had only a 7-percent increased risk. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that social determinants and racial disparities including health care access, quality and affordability hinder diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in African-American women in the United States.
“There are other factors besides just hair dye that can affect a patient’s risk for getting breast cancer,” says Dr. Sujata Chava, Internal Medicine Physician with Access Health Louisiana. “Those factors include family history of breast cancer, dense breast tissue, reproductive age, genetic mutations, previous history of radiation, and other lifestyle factors. All these need to be taken into account before assuming that hair dye was the primary factor in causing breast cancer in an individual.” Dr. Chava stresses the importance for her patients to get an annual mammogram. The CDC recommends annual mammograms for women age 40 and up, as well as women under 40 who have a family history of breast cancer.
Researchers say an estimated one-third of women age 18 and older in the U.S. use hair dye. While hair dye use is very common, it’s important to note that hair products like dye, generally contain more than 5,000 chemicals. Those chemicals include mutagenic and endocrine-disrupting properties such as aromatic amines. “Mutagenic” means the chemical physically changes the DNA of your cells. “Endocrine-disrupting” means that the chemicals interfere with your body’s endocrine system producing adverse effects such as developmental, reproductive and neurological changes. “Aromatic amines” are by-products of manufacturing plastics, industrial chemicals and other products known to contribute to cancer.
Dying your hair is routine for many men and women in the United States, but it’s important to know that there are some non-chemical alternatives to coloring your hair. “Some alternatives to hair dye include using henna, herbs (sage, marigold or saffron), coffee, black tea or beet and carrot juice,” recommends Dr. Chava. You can buy henna and other non-chemical dyes on Amazon or at your local Whole Foods Market. Non-chemical alternatives can give your hair a vibrant color without possibly causing harmful side effects; however, they often don’t last as long, so you need to color more frequently. “Women who are pregnant should avoid hair dyes with ammonia. Those who have sensitivity or allergies to products in the chemical dye should also avoid them.”
While hair dye may contribute to breast cancer, researchers say they did find that women who had their hair colored professionally in a salon had a slightly lower chance of developing cancer than those who colored their hair at home. Researchers say it could be that professional stylists do more to protect the scalp and remove excess dye more quickly, so it doesn’t linger on the skin.
You don’t have to put good looks on the back burner this holiday. Remember that there are alternatives that are safer for your body such as henna and non-chemical colors. Make smart choices that are good for your health. Most importantly: encourage the women and men in your life to get tested for breast cancer.
Many commercial insurance companies including Medicaid cover annual mammogram screenings for those over 40. The Susan G. Komen Foundation in New Orleans is working to make it easier for the uninsured to get access to free mammogram screenings. They’re partnering with organizations like Access Health Louisiana to offer free mammogram vouchers to uninsured patients living in Jefferson, Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, St. Charles, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes. For more information, call toll-free 1-866-530-6111.