Hair dye and increased cancer risk

Clients often ask me when they should start coloring their hair to cover up their greys. Despite the fact that I get paid to do it, I’ve always discouraged clients from jumping into the coloring process too soon.

Why the hesitation? There has always been speculation about the potential risks of using chemical dyes, but as professional hair stylists we’ve been assured by brands that their products are safe. Late last year, Allison, my client and co-founder of Arey, forwarded an article that shed light on the long-term effects of using hair color regularly that began to validate my hesitation. The study, published in the International Journal of Cancer using data from 46,709 women in a sister study with researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, highlights the increased risk of cancer associated with hair color use.

The study found that women who regularly used permanent hair dye in the year prior to enrolling were 9% more likely than women who didn’t use hair dye to develop breast cancer.

Further to that, African American women using permanent dyes every 5-8 weeks had a 45% increased risk of breast cancer as compared with a 7% increased risk for white women.

The average client comes in for hair color every 3 – 5 weeks. That’s 12 times a year, 120 times a decade and 360 times over the course of an average client’s hair cycle. Not only is it a costly investment, it amounts to a great deal of exposure to oxidative stress from these potentially harmful chemicals.

That said, there are a wide variety of approaches that create variation of risk. Box color bought off the pharmacy shelf is formulated with much higher levels of developer (essentially the “fuel” in hair dye) to achieve a wider range of results, while professional salons with well trained stylists have the ability to customize formulas using ‘demi’ and ‘semi’ permanent options that aren’t as strong. No matter what option you choose, you’re still exposing yourself to unnecessary oxidative stress.

All of this led us to ask, is permanent hair color the only option?

What if we looked at the causes of grey hair and found a way to rebuild and repair from within, rather than repeatedly covering them up?

What can we do?

  • Accept the greys and avoid using hair dye
  • Reduce the frequency of hair dyeing by stretching out our sessions longer and using touch up products in between
  • Use semi-permanent hair dyes

Taking ‘Not Today, Grey’ in conjunction with any of the above is a way to potentially decrease the amount of grey hair you are dyeing, thus decreasing the exposure to the harsh chemicals.