Cosmetic safety: Will hair dye give you cancer?

Every so often you hear about how chemicals in your cosmetics are responsible for cancer, birth defects or even autism. Unfortunately, the sources for these conclusions are rarely cited and when they are, they are typically a biased political committee or marketing group.

This article about hair dye and cancer caught my eye. Reading the title is downright scary “Can dyeing your hair really give you cancer?” The article continues to discuss a major conference that is being held in Belfast in which they’ll discuss the long-term link between bladder cancer and people with dyed hair. It even states

Evidence exists to indicate regular and long term use of hair dyes can be associated with the development of the cancer which kills more than 4,000 in the UK each year.

Now, if this article was all you read on the subject, you might conclude that hair dye causes bladder cancer. You might also get the impression that experts are in agreement. After all, they did get their information from Questor a European Environmental Research Centre.

Being the skeptical Beauty Brain that I am, I went to see what the medical journals had to say on the subject. A search of ‘hair dye’ resulted in 649 hits. The most current research is most useful and for answering questions like these, review articles are best. Review articles are designed to summarize all the work that has been published before.

Does hair dye cause cancer?

This article about hair dye and cancer published in late 2006 in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health concludes

“Results for bladder cancer studies suggest that subsets of the population may be genetically susceptible to hair dye exposures, but these findings are based on small subgroups in one well-designed case-control study. Replication of these findings is needed to determine whether the reported associations are real or spurious.”

This is a bit different than the definitive bladder cancer/hair dye link suggested in the newspaper article. Essentially the researchers say certain genetically predisposed people may have issues, but even this isn’t a certainty. A more thorough study is needed. But the important implication is that for most people, this isn’t a problem. Hair dye will not cause cancer.

Beauty Brains’ bottom line

What you read, see or hear in the mainstream media rarely tells the whole story. When it comes to issues about health and safety you would not be wrong to immediately reject their conclusions. If you want to know the real story do a little research from yourself using the least biased sources you can find. Research in this case would find that the majority of research shows no established link between hair dye and cancer. So, feel free to color with abandon. I know I will.

For a more thorough summary of the cancer/hair color research look at this article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.