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Does hair dye cause cancer?

This page has information on hair dye and risk of cancer. You can go straight to sections about

 

The causes of cancer

In most cases we don’t know what causes cancer. There are usually many factors involved. Most cancers have many causes working together. So you can’t usually pin it down to any single cause. We do know about some risk factors though. A risk factor is something that may increase someone's risk of developing a particular type of cancer.

Using some types of hair dye has been suggested as a possible risk factor for a few types of cancer.

 

Hair dye and bladder cancer risk

Some research has suggested that using hair dye may lead to an increased risk of bladder cancer, while other research has suggested it doesn’t. Some studies have probably been too small to show up any small increase in risk. In the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) May 2005, some research was published that looked into all the studies on hair dyes causing cancer. This found that there is unlikely to be any link between dyeing your hair and bladder cancer.

In 2008, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that there is some evidence that hair dyes can increase the risk of bladder cancer for male hairdressers and barbers. This is because they are working with these chemicals all the time. But this risk can be reduced by using non touch hairdressing techniques. The picture is less clear for people who have their hair dyed or dye their own hair.

 

Hair dye and risk of blood cell cancers

Blood cell cancers include lymphomas, leukaemia and myeloma. There is no definite evidence of a link between the use of any type of hair dye and non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), leukaemia or myeloma. Some studies have shown an increased risk of non Hodgkin lymphoma in women who use hair dye but other studies have not shown an increased risk. 

An analysis of all these studies, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in May 2005, found that there may be a small link between hair dye use and myeloma, lymphoma or some types of lymphoblastic leukaemia. But the results of this paper show that if there is any increase in risk, it must be extremely small. A recent large international study reported in 2008 that women who began using hair dye before 1980 had a slightly increased risk of some types of non Hodgkin lymphoma – follicular lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia or small lymphocytic lymphoma. The increased risk was in women who used dark coloured dyes. 

A lot of hair dyes made before 1980 contained chemicals that were known to cause cancer in mice. Since 1980, hair dyes have changed dramatically and many no longer contain these cancer causing chemicals (carcinogens). Some smaller recent studies in China and the USA have looked at whether women with certain types of gene changes may be more at risk of developing lymphoma if they use hair dyes. These studies seem to show a slight increase in risk for women with certain gene types but we need more research to be sure.

There is information about the risks and causes of myeloma and the risks and causes of non Hodgkin lymphoma on this website.

We have information about reducing your risk of cancer in the causes and symptoms section. It is far more likely that concentrating on your diet, smoking, drinking and exercise habits will reduce your risk of cancer more effectively than changing your use of cosmetics.

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Updated: 25 November 2014