NEW research sheds light on a connection between hair dyes, straighteners, relaxers, and breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the U.S. with approximately 220,000 new cases each year and 40,000 deaths related to the disease and/or treatments (about 400 men die of breast cancer per year as well).
According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, about 12% of women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
Many women have been led to believe that they are pre-programmed to get breast cancer because of their genes or family history, but that’s not true.
There are many diet, lifestyle and environmental factors that significantly increase a woman’s breast cancer risk regardless of genetics, like:
• Eating a meat-based diet, especially beef and processed meat.
• Hormone replacement therapy
• Birth control pills
• Lack of exercise
• Being overweight
• Alcohol consumption
• Underarm deodorants and antiperspirants
• Light at night or working the night shift
• Excessive bra wearing
Also of concern is the synergistic toxicity of hundreds of chemicals used in personal care products, some of which are directly linked to breast cancer, like parabens.
It has been known for some time that hairdressers have a higher risk of cancer due to everyday contact with potential carcinogens in hair care products, but what about their clients?
There’s a brand new report in the journal Carcinogenesis investigating the links between increased breast cancer risk and use of hair dyes, relaxers, straighteners, and conditioning creams containing cholesterol or placenta.
Researchers analyzed data on 4,285 women, ages 20-75, who were taking part in the Women’s Circle of Health Study (over half of these women had breast cancer).
After studying the data, and adjusting for age and some of the contributing factors I mentioned above, researchers reported a significant increase in breast cancer risk for women who used hair dyes, chemical relaxers, or straighteners.
Interestingly, risk patterns differed between white women and black women, which may be related to the types of chemicals used in products for different hair types.
For black women, the use of dark shades of hair dye was linked to a 51% higher risk of breast cancer, and a 72% higher risk of estrogen positive breast cancer.
For white women, the use of relaxers or straighteners alone was linked to a 74% increased risk of breast cancer. If these products were used together with hair dyes, the women’s risk of breast cancer increased 240%, nearly two and a half times!
White women also had a 54% higher risk of estrogen positive breast cancer with use of dark hair dyes and 256% higher risk of estrogen negative breast cancer with use of relaxers.
Some of the most concerning, potentially toxic and carcinogenic chemicals found in commercial hair dyes are PPD (para-Phenylenediamine), resorcinol, ammonia, persulfates, lead acetate, and 4-ABP.
Critics may say, “This study doesn’t PROVE hair dyes cause cancer.” That is correct.
But if preventing or healing cancer is a priority for you, then I suggest applying the precautionary principle (i.e. better safe than sorry) and eliminating as many risk factors (mentioned above) and potentially toxic home and body care products from your life as possible in order to reduce your risk and your toxic load.
If you’d like to replace your hair dye with a less-toxic or non-toxic alternative, here are a few brands that have low-to-zero levels of chemicals like PPD, ammonia, and resorcinol:
• Madison Reed (for at-home use)
• Henna Color Lab (for at-home use)
• Nautilique Zero (sold through professional salons)
• O&M Original & Mineral (sold through professional salons)
A bit more about breast cancer and bras
The hypothesis that bras restrict blood and lymphatic circulation and contribute to an unhealthy breast tissue environment that could lead to cancer makes sense, but if you google the topic, you will find many articles emphatically stating that bras do not cause breast cancer.
There is a 1991 study which found that premenopausal women who did not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users. That sounds like an indictment on bras for sure, but there is another possible explanation for that. The researchers speculated that the women who didn’t wear bras were thin with small breasts and didn’t need bras whereas women with large breasts, who wear bras more, also tend to be obese which definitely increases their breast cancer risk. So that study is inconclusive.
Medical anthropologists Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer -- authors of the 2005 book Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras -- conducted a study of nearly 5,000 women, and found that women who did not wear bras had a much lower risk of breast cancer. Here are some of the big takeaways:
• Women who wore their bras 24 hours per day had a 3 out of 4 chance of developing breast cancer
• Women who wore bras more than 12 hours per day, but not to bed, had a 1 in 7 risk
• Women who wore their bras less than 12 hours per day had a 1 in 52 risk
• Women who wore bras rarely or never had a 1 in 168 chance of getting breast cancer.
Back to the precautionary principle ladies. Following their advice and wearing a bra less than 12 hours per day -- or not much at all -- is easy to do, costs you nothing, and could significantly drop your risk. Make sense to do it!
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