Updated 02 September 2014

Does hair dye cause cancer? Latest research.

New research has found that hairdressers who often use certain dyes and perming products had more carcinogenic chemicals in their blood that colleagues who used these less frequently. Are their salon customers at risk too?


Hairdressing is considered a “probably carcinogenic” occupation by the World Health Organisation (WHO): hairdressers are exposed to numerous chemicals in their work, which has been previously linked to a higher risk for bladder cancer.

Now new research finds that hairdressers who often work with certain dyes and perming products have raised levels of cancer-causing chemicals in their blood.

It appears that the lighter-colour, permanent dyes and chemicals used in perming are the worst culprits. Whether this means salon clients (or people doing DIY dyeing at home) have raised risk for cancer is not yet known, but the following measures are a sensible precaution:

* Dye and perm your hair less often. If only your roots are grey, consider just focusing on that area.

* Avoid the lighter-colour dyes.

* Choose semi-permanent or temporary dyes over permament dyes.

* When using any chemical products on your hair, always wear gloves and minimise contact with your skin as much as possible. It's also recommended that hairdressers (the amateur kind too) perform tasks where gloves are cumbersome (such as cutting hair) before dyeing.

* Research less toxic brands. See the Skin Deep database for tips on what to choose and what to avoid.

* Discourage teenagers and young adults from dyeing their hair.

* Get into the mindset of reducing the "chemical load" on your body generally when it comes to personal grooming products; most of us use too many and too much. Men apply an average of 85 chemicals per day, and women 168! Each amount applied is tiny, but, cumulatively, plus all the other toxins we're exposed to in our homes and urban environment, the impact on our health is concerning.

Read more:
What price pretty? The chemical load in cosmetics
Our cancer-causing world
Facial scrubs choking the oceans

Johanssen, et al. (June 2014) Exposure of hairdressers to ortho- and meta-toluidine in hair dyes. British Medical Journal

Olivia Rose-Innes is Health24’s EnviroHealth Editor. Read more of her columns and articles or post a question to her expert forum.


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