Hair dyes and breast cancer – What you need to know

New research sheds light on a connection between hair dyes, straighteners, relaxers, and breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the U.S. with approximately 284,000 new cases each year and 44,000 deaths related to the disease and/or treatments (about 530 men die of breast cancer per year as well).

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, about 13% of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Many women have been led to believe that they are pre-programmed to get breast cancer because of their genes or family history, but that’s not true.

There are many diets, lifestyles and environmental factors that significantly increase a woman’s breast cancer risk regardless of genetics, like:

– Eating a meat-based diet, especially beef and processed meat.
– Hormone replacement therapy
Birth control pills
Lack of exercise
Being overweight
Alcohol consumption
– Underarm deodorants and antiperspirants
Light at night or working the night shift
Excessive bra wearing
– And even abortions

Also of concern is the synergistic toxicity of hundreds of chemicals used in personal care products, some of which are directly linked to breast cancer, like parabens.

It has been known for some time that hairdressers have a higher risk of cancer due to everyday contact with potential carcinogens in hair care products, but what about their clients?

There’s a brand new report in the journal Carcinogenesis investigating the links between increased breast cancer risk and the use of hair dyes, relaxers, straighteners, and conditioning creams containing cholesterol or placenta.

Researchers analyzed data on 4,285 women, ages 20-75, who were taking part in the Women’s Circle of Health Study (over half of these women had breast cancer).

After studying the data, and adjusting for age and some of the contributing factors I mentioned above, researchers reported a significant increase in breast cancer risk for women who used hair dyes, chemical relaxers, or straighteners.

Interestingly, risk patterns differed between white women and black women, which may be related to the types of chemicals used in products for different hair types.

For black women, the use of dark shades of hair dye was linked to a 51% higher risk of breast cancer, and a 72% higher risk of estrogen-positive breast cancer.

For white women, the use of relaxers or straighteners alone was linked to a 74% increased risk of breast cancer. If these products were used together with hair dyes, the women’s risk of breast cancer increased 240%, nearly two and a half times!

White women also had a 54% higher risk of estrogen-positive breast cancer with the use of dark hair dyes and 256% higher risk of estrogen-negative breast cancer with the use of relaxers.

Some of the most concerning, potentially toxic and carcinogenic chemicals found in commercial hair dyes are PPD (para-Phenylenediamine), resorcinol, ammonia, persulfates, lead acetate, and 4-ABP.

Critics may say, “This study doesn’t PROVE hair dyes cause cancer.” That is correct.

But if preventing or healing cancer is a priority for you, then I suggest applying the precautionary principle (i.e. better safe than sorry) and eliminating as many risk factors (mentioned above) and potentially toxic home and body care products from your life as possible in order to reduce your risk and your toxic load.

If you’d like to replace your hair dye with a less-toxic or non-toxic alternative, here are a few brands that have low-to-zero levels of chemicals like PPD, ammonia, and resorcinol:

Madison Reed (for at-home use)

Henna Color Lab (for at-home use)

– Natulique Zero (sold through professional salons)

O&M Original & Mineral (sold through professional salons)

A bit more about breast cancer and bras
The hypothesis that bras restrict blood and lymphatic circulation and contribute to an unhealthy breast tissue environment that could lead to cancer makes sense, but if you google the topic, you will find many articles emphatically stating that bras do not cause breast cancer.  

There is a 1991 study which found that premenopausal women who did not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users. That sounds like an indictment on bras for sure, but there is another possible explanation for that. The researchers speculated that the women who didn’t wear bras were thin with small breasts and didn’t need bras whereas women with large breasts, who wear bras more, also tend to be obese which definitely increases their breast cancer risk. So that study is inconclusive.

Medical anthropologists Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer — authors of the 2005 book Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras — conducted a study of nearly 5,000 women, and also found that women who did not wear bras had a much lower risk of breast cancer. Here are some of their findings:

– Women who wore bras 24 hours per day had a 3 out of 4 chance of developing breast cancer

– Women who wore bras more than 12 hours per day, but not to bed, had a 1 in 7 risk

– Women who wore bras less than 12 hours per day had a 1 in 52 risk

– Women who wore bras rarely or never had a 1 in 168 chance of getting breast cancer

Back to the precautionary principle ladies. Following their advice and wearing a bra less than 12 hours per day — or not much at all — is easy to do, costs you nothing, and could significantly drop your risk. Make sense to do it! :)

Article sources
Medical News Today
American Cancer Society

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This Post Has 48 Comments

  1. Betsy

    So does this include bleach used to highlight hair? I am thinking that if a product does not come in contact with the scalp then it is probably safe as the hair is dead in any case. Fumes from the products may be another story though. What say you Chris?

    1. Chris Wark

      Bleach is toxic for sure, but I haven’t found any studies directly linking it to breast cancer.

      1. Amanda

        I get that hair dye is toxic I’ve been wondering about it for a while now. But bra wearing???? What on earth ?? What should we wear?? Freaking me out!!

        1. Cori Richardelle

          I have stage 3 breast cancer and am using Warburg metabolic theory-based treatments. My success so far has made me cautiously optimistic. I have lost 90 pounds. I believe my serious sugar addiction was the biggest cause of the cancer.

          None of the bra-breast cancer studies considered diet, making them ALL inconclusive in my opinion. (I’m a biologist). While I do go braless in the evenings and while sleeping, my breasts are still too large (36C) to be comfortable braless in daily activities. Especially while I am exercising. When I was a 38D, it was out of the question. While I do love Chris Wark’s ideas and research in general, in my opinion we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water here.

          1. Mrs Beardsley

            Lol I lost a lot of weight due to embarking on a healthier lifestyle after ovarian cancer diagnosis. I was a 38 G and now a 32 D. There is no way I will go out sans bra. I love underwire Simone Perele. After staring death in the face, a pretty lace bra is a must have!!

          2. Cori Richardelle

            Well said!

          3. wc

            It’s a problem for smaller breasts too, I’m a 32B and I feel like without a push-up bra my breasts are practically non-existent! At the same time while I’m working out they will be all over the place without a sports bra. My compromise is only wearing a bra when I’m out, which is not gonna be all day since I mostly work from home. At home I wear a looser padded sports bra without underwire, also if I go grocery shopping or something.

            I do agree with you about the research also, for instance, Chris mentioned meat in the article, or beef in particular, and I have yet to find a single study that looked at people who ate a whole food organic diet with plenty of fresh produce and some organic grass-fed beef that would show that the beef increased their risk for cancer, while it is entirely possible that all the hormones, antibiotics, glyphosate, etc., in conventional meat could contribute to a host of diseases, including cancer. I mean everyone makes their choices, I’m not talking about that, just the lack of studies.

          4. Cori Richardelle

            I am on a ketogenic diet and very restricted budget. My diet is 60% fat, 25-30% protein, and 10-15% complex carbs. I generally can’t afford organics, but I do buy organic carrots, beets, and kale for my juices. My primary carb sources are veggie juices, beans, and small amounts of brown rice. I also cycle through fasting followed by a day or two of ~600 calories of gold label coconut oil from Tropical Traditions.

            If you haven’t read, “Tripping Over the Truth”, by Travis Christofferson, then I highly recommend it. There more and more valid studies being done worldwide that support the metabolic cancer theory.

      2. Chic Rementeria

        It is far more toxic for the stylist as she is standing above her client in the rising fumes. The bad part for the client is sitting under the dryer and having those fumes blown into her face…

  2. Halli620

    I tried going to the linked site, but couldn’t find reference to the study. I’d like more specifics on the “relaxers/straighteners” category, as there’s a huge range and this is very vague. I.e. Short-term straighteners like the Brazilian blowout have been shown to still contain formaldehyde, while “permanent” ones like Japanese I believe do not. Please provide more info on the questionnaire, since the linked site links to the group but not the study. Thanks.

  3. CanWeGoHomeNow?

    You didn’t mention abortion under factors that significantly increase a woman’s breast cancer risk.

  4. Diane

    Just a few days ago I was wondering about the risks in coloring my hair. Last year I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer and have chosen NATURAL (alternative) treatment. Thank you so much for your timely article!

    1. Jo

      Hi Diane,
      I am also using alternative treatments. Would you like to correspond with me privately?

      1. Mel

        Hi Joan,
        I am very interested in what you are doing!

  5. Michele

    I was using one that didn’t have ammonia for years thinking it was better until I read the label and it had propylene glycol. I would have gone gray if I didn’t find henna.
    No chemicals and it is cheap and with shoulder length hair one jar lasts a long time.

    1. Chic Rementeria

      Even though a product says it leaves out a potential has to up the amount of another ingredient, or replace it with some chemical that is were smart to read it!

      1. Rachel Chesher

        I buy mine for a health shop. The brand is ‘Naturtint Permanent Hair Colour’ I started with this after my brain cancer treatment…….? I assume this is O.K?

        1. Chic Rementeria

          Here is what I want you to do…I just looked up the first 2 ingredients and I was shocked..Ethanolamine is a blood vessel irritant in a prescription…get the ingredients and look them up individually and their side effects….this is how you empower yourself…and all the posts on here are giving great information…but remember if your hair is dark…the developer (20vol) has to open the hair cuticle…take some of your natural out and deposit the hair color….it’s the deposit part that is the issue…even though your hair is dead it’s on your scalp where there are blood vessels aplenty!!

          1. Rachel Chesher

            ThankYou for this information. Can I just ask, is a semi-permanent colour O.K? I live in the UK. I do have dark hair, but lots of grey hair too.

          2. Chic Rementeria

            Mist semi Permanente in the US only have a 4% developer which is a lot easier on hair so its barely scratching the cuticle to get color in and its more topical. It doesn’t last as long so to help stretch it and keep the shine use colored shampoo. I don’t know if you have Paul Mitchell there but there line of colored shampoo is great but most high end lines carry them. My concern for you is that you have already had cancer (as I have) and that you look at detoxing yearly and eating clean food and boosting the hell out of your immune system. I wish you much luck..I will always give you as straight an answer as I can..

  6. Anna

    Does this include perms too? I have been trying to find a more natural way to perm my hair. Thanks for all your great information?

    1. Chic Rementeria

      I found that the milder a perm solution is you need still has to have a chemical in the neutralizer to “re-harden” hair around that shape of the rod. I found they don’t last as long

      1. Anna

        Thanks! I like to get perms but am hesitant after cancer 4 years ago. Any specific info you have would be great! Like perm types or brands… the hairdressers I have asked don’t know.

        1. Chic Rementeria

          Acid based, low ammonia…it’s not perfect but if you have to do that…the fumes are just as bad, everyone walking into the salon smell it immediately so that can’t be good. Sally’s carries perms like this if you are doing it at home…one of my favorite that I used for years was ISO which came in several options…the ISO Option EXO is thio free…A client brought in her own perm, good thing I knew her well, it was called Natural Solution, Organic and Ammonia free….Hope some of this helps.

          1. Anna

            Thanks so much!

  7. Chic Rementeria

    Have been a Barber/Stylist for 35+ years, one of my biggest fears was the toxic environment of a salon..I kept doors/Windows open…purchased a huge filter just for chemical odors and took a LOT of anti- oxidants. Now that I’m retired Im gratefull I did what little I could for myself and my stylists. Thank God no one did relaxers in the chlorine gas…inhaling hair products…and a few years of a nail tech’s chemical contribution Im healthy ….

  8. Judy

    I notice henna isn’t mentioned here. I have been using henna (Surya Brasil) for the past year, and while it has some chemicals, I don’t believe it’s nearly as bad as some of the others. Even salons that have promoted natural or organic products unless dyes that contain harmful chemicals.

  9. Chris Gupta

    Was there some reason you left out hair print?

    1. Jennifer

      I was wondering the same thing. Excellent alternative!

  10. Jeanne Stone Newberry

    I have really been wondering about that. The bra thing…..yeah, need to find a friendly alternative. Sounds just perfect to walk around without one but that’s not going to happen. I would think a sport bra may be a good alternative……support is needed hey!

    1. Michele

      Bras are bad for two main reasons – any underwire because of the metals, and any tight bra because of the restriction. So use no underwire and find some not too tight. I use the camisoles with shelf bras sometimes. Some of those sport bras can be tighter than regular ones. I have some that are looser. And in winter under heavy sweaters, I don’t wear one. And definitely not at night. Just be aware and do the best we can.

      1. Cori Richardelle

        Most “underwires” are now plastic, especially in inexpensive bras. (I know this because I snapped so many when I was obese). After losing weight, I started looking for underwire bras with “shorter” curves. These don’t dig into my armpits. My breasts are still large enough that wireless bras cause shoulder pain when I wear them all day. When working out I use front close jog bras. Experiment! There are tons of foundation garments out there!

        As I said before I am usually braless 10-12 hours a day now, and I do think that helps. Over my lifetime, I only wore a bra to bed when I was nursing.

      2. Chic Rementeria

        I wore underwire for most of my life..I now have some thickening underneath..I stopped wearing wire about about 3 years ago and I now have a cyst…the breast specialist at TMC breast cancer clinic said that wires aren’t the problem its how much time daily we spend in them….

  11. Susan Gardner

    Any comments on the Aveda hair dye products? I switched to their Salon a few years ago hoping they were a better alternative.

  12. Jane

    I have never colored my hair and long ago stopped perms after a rash-response. Regarding bras, I am not obese, but do need support for my womanly breasts. I have been looking for such support for years, so far without success. Even Blue Canoe does not make a bra that fits me. I would welcome suggestions. Thanks for a helpful article.

  13. sabrina

    Myhairprint is an awesome line that I’ve been using for a couple of years. It’s not actually hair dye. It takes the pigment of your very own hair colour and enhances it while getting rid of gray hair. It’s phenomenal. :)
    Non-toxic and safe of course.

  14. Corinne

    If I may add a conventional hair dye alternative to your list. Hairprint. This stuff is so natural it could be eaten. They’ve even shown people tasting the product. SUPER natural. Eventually down the road if I’m interested in hair color I will only use Hairprint. Check it out. ^_^

  15. Cara

    Chris, I was excited to see this article. Then I was very disappointed. I have been concerned about the risks of hair dye. And opted to use Madison Reed thinking it was a better choice. Then I read some more and saw that it was equally toxic. I’m surprised by the products you listed. I am let down. I opted for Hair Print as well.

  16. Jo

    Checkout the organic cotton bras that are offered by the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida. Just go to their website store. They offer many bras that are designed for safety and non-toxicity.

  17. yawningreyhound

    The abortion connection has been overrated if you’re talking about the China study

  18. Tamara

    When you say straightener, does this mean a flat iron, or straightening product?

    1. Chic Rementeria

      The product…very chemical ..amonium thioglycolate…

  19. Tye Lorac

    I read years ago that the problem with bras was the underwire. A high percentage of cotton in bras and clothes is a good to look for when shopping. Is dye worse than bleach for hair? I didn’t see anything in your blog about bleach. You see a lot of breast cancer in affluent areas especially in California (Marin County, for example). The women (and let’s not forget men) color their hair and have their nails done more than in poorer areas of the country so it just makes since that you would see a higher percentage of the population in those areas with cancer. One thing that wasn’t addressed is that all of these toxic products used on our hair and bodies, even not so toxic shampoo and body wash etc. all go down the drain when rinsed off and foil used to wrap the hair with bleach or color in the salon or at home, goes to our waste facilities. Where this water & garbage ends up depends on where you live but a lot of it comes back to haunt us in the form of contaminated land and water. In the nail salon, the waste i.e. cotton balls to take off polish etc., are thrown away loaded with toxic polish and remover which also end up in our waste facilities and again where all that goes depends on where you live.

  20. propsguy

    back when i was 9 (I’ll be 64 in a few days) my mom’s sister, who was a nurse, brought home one of those Nurses’ Study Questionnaires. i read it and i can remember to this day thinking “wow, the author of this study thinks that hair dye has something to do with cancer!”
    there must have been a question about hair processing on every page, all worded differently. they asked you if and how much you smoked once and then were done with it, but the questions about hair dye ran throughout the many pages of the questionnaire.
    i have never dyed my hair because of the effect that questionnaire had on my 9 year old mind

  21. Barbara Szymanski

    I’ve been wondering what effect electric cook ranges might have on breast cancer. Any thoughts?

  22. Luciana

    Madison Reed? Are you kidding me. I have done research on this after my hair was falling out, directly after using Madison Reed. It’s serious stuff. It may be natural but there are some chemical disruptors there. Do a search online and you will find others whose hair have fallen out or are having major issues with having used Madison Reed.

  23. Katlady

    Foam and molded cups of VOC synthetic materials may contribute. The myth of all types of bras has been debunked- and it was a survey of women not a scientific study. There has been instance where women developed a certain type of breast cancer that could be attributed to foam.

    1. lakewoodsteve

      Katlady: In this world mass fake information your use of the
      words myth, debunked, survey & scientific study send up my red flag.
      Without a link to a respectable [non financially involved, for profit, pink
      type industry] Dumping real doctor’s 2000 year old Hippocratic
      Oath [one that was devoted to godly higher powers, Mother Nature’s talent, “food for medicine” “when nature leads the way” “My ability and
      judgment” and, Abortion restrictions, all taken away! Now Doctors FAKE oath requires devotion to one size fits all devotion to [Big Med industry’s] “Scientific gains” [I.E. the religion of Godless Scientism] plus “and all that it requires.”

      How else could we [factually] have 56 million “legal” “doctor” Abortion / murders & 200K +++ Iatrogenic deaths yearly? Not to mention the exponential increase in cancer & neurologic disorders.

      Hippocrates’s said it best! “Physicians are many in title, but few in reality.”

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