Studies have now shown that black women, in particular, are most at risk of having a higher chance of developing cancer – with breast cancer being the highest risk.
New research questions the safety of popular hair products, including chemical hair straighteners and permanent hair dye, and how African American women especially face danger from using these items during routine hair care.
Human studies in the past have been largely inconsistent when it comes to the dangers that certain hair products might pose, though research in animals has found links between those products and their ability to heighten the risk of cancer.
A new ongoing study, called the Sister Study, took lifestyle surveys and studied the medical records of 46,709 women, aged 35-74. The women answered questions about how they used hair straighteners and hair dye. In the past, these studies mostly included white women, but the new study includes 9% African American women.
The study concluded that the women who used chemical straighteners and permanent hair dye were most at risk of developing breast cancer.
Epidemiologist Alexander White, the author of the study and a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences investigator, said that, “The association was notably higher among black women.”
White found that whereas white women had a 7% chance of developing breast cancer from using permanent hair dye, the number increased to 45% for black women. This was especially true among black women who colored their hair every one or two months.
Hair straighteners, in particular, seem to carry the highest risk when race is taken out of the equation. Both black and white women were found to be 30% more likely to develop breast cancer if they used straighteners, compared to women who didn’t use those products.
“For the chemical straighteners, one of the big concerns is that there is formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen”, said White. She named Brazilian blowout as one of the treatments that are known to contain formaldehyde.
Dr. Otis Brawley, a John Hopkins University oncologist noted that the risk of these hair treatments is lower when compared to other known carcinogens, like radiation or tobacco.
Former president of the National Medical Association and medical oncologist, Dr. Boris Browne, said that it was best for women to start a conversation with their doctor about their own personal risk for developing breast cancer.
“I think it’s important for women, particularly African American women, not to panic every time a study comes out,” she said. “But it should raise questions for our primary care providers.”