Can Hair Dyes Give You Cancer?

hair dye, hair colorHairdressers and barbers are at increased risk of developing cancer as a result of their use of hair dyes. These risks could also extend to personal use of the dyes.

A panel of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France reviewed the evidence and found a consistent risk of bladder cancer in male hairdressers and barbers. A second review of the evidence on personal hair dye use found some studies suggested a possible association with bladder cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia.

However, the panel found that the evidence was inadequate to classify the carcinogenicity of personal hair dye use.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Hair color is often one of the few cosmetics that even “natural-minded” people justify using, often to cover up gray hair. Some estimates even say that more than one in three women, and one in 10 men over 40, throughout Europe, North America and Japan use some type of hair color.

Clearly the risks of these chemicals are magnified among hairdressers because they use them so frequently. But don’t mistake that to mean that coloring your hair once every four to six weeks is safe.

Your scalp has a very rich blood supply that is more than capable of transporting the toxins in hair dyes throughout your entire body.

What Types of Toxins are Found in Hair Dye?


Keep in mind that hair dyes are classified as a personal care product, and the government doesn't require any mandatory testing for these products before they hit store shelves. So literally anything goes.

The Environmental Working Group has ranked 456 hair colors in their Skin Deep cosmetics database, and roughly 400 of them are considered high hazard because they contain toxins linked to:
  • Cancer
  • Developmentive and reproductive toxicity
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Immunotoxicity and organ toxicity
  • Allergies and irritation of the eyes, skin or lungs
More specifically, in your box of “chestnut brown” or “ash blonde” -- or in the dyes used at your salon -- you may find:
  • Para-phenylenediamine and tetrahydro-6-nitroquinoxaline, both of which have been shown to damage genetic material and cause cancer in animals.
  • Formaldehyde, a preservative linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity and more.
  • DMDM Hydantoin, another preservative that is a known immune system toxin (and has been restricted for use in cosmetics in Japan).
  • Eugenol, a fragrance ingredient that’s associated with cancer, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and allergies.
Of course, this is just to name a few. If you have a box of hair color under your bathroom sink, I encourage you to look up some of the ingredients for yourself using the Skin Deep cosmetics database. The results can be very eye-opening.

Health Concerns From Dying Your Hair

The above study stopped short of saying that coloring your hair can cause cancer, but before you take that as a green light, you should know that other studies have found a clear-cut link.

For instance, one study of nearly 900 people found that women who used permanent hair dye at least once a month were twice as likely as women who did not use permanent hair dye to develop bladder cancer.

Meanwhile, those who reported regular use of the hair dye for at least 15 years were more than three times as likely to develop bladder cancer as non-dye users.

A separate study also found that women who use hair dyes for more than 20 years may nearly double their risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Are Any Hair Dyes Safe?

Ideally, you should limit your exposure to all chemical products as much as possible, and that includes dying your hair. You really should not put anything on your body that you wouldn’t eat. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, staying away from hair dye is particularly important because of the impact it could have on your unborn child.

That said, I realize that pursuing a youthful appearance is very much indoctrinated into our culture. You may want to try using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to let go of some of these unrealistic ideals.

But for those of you who are determined to use hair dye no matter what, well at least use these tips to minimize your risk:

1. Steer clear of the darkest shades. Although all of the shades use essentially the same chemicals, there's quite a lot more of them in dark brown and black shades than there are in blonde, red or lighter shades.

2. Avoid permanent hair color, as they’re the most toxic. Semi-permanent and temporary colors are less so.

3. Look for natural brands of hair color that use henna, herbal dyes and vegetable dyes as primary ingredients. These are likely to be much less toxic than the average hair color.

4. If you go to a salon, choose one that is toxin-free, odor-free, herbal, or caters to people with multiple chemical sensitivity and allergies. These salons tend to use less toxic products.

As an aside, if you are a woman under 40 and have prematurely gray hair, it is usually a result of hypothyroidism. If you fall into this category, it would be wise to learn about these natural methods to help restore your thyroid.

+ Sources and References