The hair and beauty sector is a multi-billion-pound industry and women of colour in particular are known for spending a significant portion of their monthly salary just to keep their hair looking great.

Recent research found the average British woman will spend £40,000 in her lifetime on hair products and trips to the salon and for black women it’s probably accurate to add at least another £20,000 to that equation.
But are some of the products we’re using on a daily and weekly basis detrimental to our health?

Recently published research, from a study which took place in the US, has found that women who use darker hair dyes or chemical relaxers to straighten their hair have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

The new findings make worrying reading for black women in particular who regularly use straightening products to reduce the frizzy nature of their curls.

Are hair dyes and relaxers increasing the risk of breast cancer? 55596654 - macro close up portrait of young african woman looking at dry edges of dyed hair.isolated on white background.
Image Credit: www.123rf.com.

One of the researchers, Dr Adana Llanos, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health and Cancer Institute of New Jersey, explained to Melanmag.com how scientists studied 4,285 African American and white women between 2002 and 2008 to examine the effect of certain hair products and any possible link to breast cancer.

She said: “Findings from our study showed that there are associations between the use of hair dyes, especially dark shades of hair dyes – dark brown or black, as well as chemical relaxers / straighteners and increased risk of breast cancer, with some differences between African American and white women.
“African American women who reported use of dark hair dye shades had an increased risk of breast cancer overall and white women who reported use of chemical relaxers / straighteners had an increased risk of breast cancer overall.
“In more specific terms, use of dark shade hair dyes was associated with a 51% increased risk of breast cancer among African American women and use of chemical relaxers or straighteners was associated with a 74% increased risk among white women.”

While stressing that more research needs to be carried out following the findings, Dr Llanos said she would be in favour of reviewing the regulations for certain hair relaxing products that have not changed much since they first appeared on the market in the 1920s and some of which are known to contain harsh ingredients including sodium hydroxide, formaldehyde, and ammonia.

The new report, which was published in the research journal Carcinogenesis, is not the first to warn of the potential dangers of some hair relaxing products. Last year a non-profit organisation called the ‘Black Women for Wellness’ (BWW) group, which is based in Los Angeles, released their study into the toxicity of some black women’s hair products. That study was compiled over five years using specialist reports, health data, focus groups, interviews with hair salon professionals and product manufacturers.

BWW found that several of the active products in hair relaxers and darker dyes have been linked to uterine fibroids, respiratory problems, skin and eye irritations, early puberty and cancer.

Dr Llanos is hoping to conduct more study in the area focusing on “specific hair products and brands of hair products to determine if we can identify which ingredients may be harmful.”
Meanwhile she had this advice for women using these types of products on a regular basis: “In general, I think women should just be aware of what hair products, cosmetics and other personal care products they use and consider the possibility of these products exposing them to potentially harmful chemicals and compounds.”

She added: “While our findings show there are associations with the use of certain hair products and breast cancer risk, they do not show that simply using these products will cause a woman to get breast cancer.”

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