Study Links Hair Straighteners, Dyes to Breast Cancer


One breast cancer expert said she read the new study with “surprise and dismay.”

“As a breast cancer surgeon of greater than 25 years, I spend a lot of time debunking myths about the causes of breast cancer,” said Dr. Alice Police, who directs breast surgery at the Northwell Health Cancer Institute in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. “No, it is not caused by your deodorant or your underwire bras or wearing your cellphone in your sports bra when you work out.”

However, the new study “really suggests a plausible link” between certain hair care products and cancer, she said.

“Even when considering age and obesity rates, the trend appears to be real in this very large group of women,” said Police. “The risk with at-home treatments was higher than salon treatments, probably due to increased chemical exposure to the hands and to fumes in an enclosed space,” she noted.

“I am so sad that my youthful ombre may be at risk, as a woman of a certain age who regularly colors her hair,” Police said. “However, as the article readily admits, more study is necessary.”

Another breast cancer expert was a little more dubious about the study’s methodology and findings.

“There are many points that I take issue with in this study,” said Dr. Lauren Cassell, chief of breast surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She pointed out that the Sisters Study’s population isn’t representative of women as a whole.

“These women were all at varying increased risks based on the virtue of the fact that they had at least one first-degree relative [a sister] with a history of breast cancer, and maybe more,” Cassell noted.

Also, the researchers concluded that “only a one-year period of using hair dye or hair straightener prior to the study was enough to impact breast cancer risk, which does not seem reasonable,” she said. Many women interviewed in the study might also not accurately recall frequency of use, or whether they used permanent or semi-permanent dyes, Cassell reasoned.

“All these chemicals are probably not good for you, but if there was a direct connection, one would think that we would be seeing many more women developing breast cancer because so many women use these products on their hair,” she said.

The study was published online Dec. 4 in the International Journal of Cancer.

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