The new study explores the link between popular hair products and breast cancer risks. In particular, chemicals in these products, including dyes and relaxers, have been implicated to be carcinogenic in some animal studies. However, the evidence for this link remains somewhat inconclusive.

To better understand the link, researchers analyzed data from nearly 4,300 women with and without breast cancer. The researchers then teased apart other factors that could have influenced breast cancer risk, such as family medical history, alcohol and smoking status, and physical health. In addition, they also looked at hair product use, including hair dyes, relaxers or straighteners, and condition creams.

The team found a link between breast cancer and hair product use. Furthermore, the link seemed to differ slightly between white women and African American women. Specifically, black women who used dark hair dyes had a 51 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer. This risk jumps to 72 percent when the team looked only at estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. For white women who used chemical relaxers or straighteners, the risk for breast cancer was increased to 74 percent. Interestingly, the risks were higher for salon dyes, as compared to DIY with home kits.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: This article reinforces the importance of being aware of our exposures. There are literally thousands of chemicals and substances our bodies come into contact with daily. In your morning routine alone, you probably use: soap, shampoo, conditioner, face cream, shaving cream/gel, and some sort of hair product. Women get additional chemical exposures from makeup. Hair dyes, used by both men and women, also contain chemicals. While we don’t know the long-term effects of all of these chemicals, we can all agree that they are probably not beneficial and possibly harmful. We can’t completely avoid all of these exposures – nor should we try to – but I do believe that we should aim to reduce our exposures as much as we reasonably can. This reduction only comes from being aware of the things we put in, as well as on, our bodies.