Copyright 1994 Health ResponseAbility Systems, Collective Work &
In the past few years, several studies have indicated that
women and men who dye their hair frequently may be at increased
risk for certain cancers.
These studies showed an association between hair dye use and
increased risks for multiple myeloma (cancer of cells in the bone
marrow), non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system), and
leukemia (cancer of blood-forming cells) in both sexes, and
ovarian cancer in women.
Three recent studies support findings from earlier studies
showing that increased risk might be restricted to long-term or
frequent hair dye users, particularly users of dark hair dyes.
Hair coloring products are widely used in the United States by
both men and women; estimates of current usage range from 20
percent to 60 percent of the population. These products may
contain chemicals that are mutagenic (altering the structure of
DNA) and carcinogenic (cancer-causing) in animals.
The quantity and structure of these chemicals vary by product
type and color; darker dyes tend to have greater amounts than
Research has shown that some of the substances in hair dyes are
readily absorbed through the skin and scalp during application.
Several studies of cosmetologists and other persons who apply
hair dyes to others as part of their work have shown them to be
at increased risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma,
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the research
organization that classifies exposures as carcinogenic to
humans, has classified cosmetology as an occupation entailing
exposures that are possibly carcinogenic.
Because the evidence from the studies of personal use of hair
dyes is not conclusive, no recommendation to change hair dye use
can be made at this time.
However, because hair dye use is common in the United States, and
because people who apply hair dyes as part of their work have
been shown to be at increased risk of certain cancers, further
research is needed to clarify whether there is a causal
A report published in the February 2, 1994 issue of the Journal
of the National Cancer Institute, showed that women who use
permanent hair dyes do not have an overall increased
risk of dying from cancer.
However, women who used black hair dye for more than 20 years had
a slightly increased risk of dying from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
and multiple myeloma.
Less than 1 percent of women in this study reported that they had
used permanent black hair dye for more than 20 years.
This study, carried out by Michael J. Thun, M.D., and colleagues
at the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, included information from 573,369 women
enrolled in a cancer prevention study.
At the beginning of the study in 1982, the women answered a
questionnaire that included questions on use of permanent hair
dye. The women were contacted periodically over the next seven
years, and those who had died were identified and their causes of
The use of temporary, semi-permanent, or progressive hair dyes
was not studied, and any women who began to use hair dyes after
the initial questionnaire were not classified as hair dye users.
This study of women may not apply to men because men tend to use
hair dye products that differ chemically from women's hair dyes.
The ACS study also looked at cancer deaths and not at cancer
incidence (new diagnoses), which was the measurement used in
previous studies of personal use of hair dye.
Another report, published as an abstract in the Oct. 15, 1993
issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, showed men and
women who used permanent or semi-permanent hair dyes for 16 or
more years had an increased risk for leukemia.
Dale Sandler, Ph.D., and colleagues at the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) compared hair dye use among
615 leukemia patients and 630 people without the disease. The
researchers found that those who had used any type of hair dye
had a 50 percent increased risk of leukemia compared with people
who never dyed their hair.
Most of the risk shown in this NIEHS study was associated with
permanent and semipermanent dyes, which increased risk by 60
percent and 40 percent respectively. Temporary rinses increased
risk by 20 percent. Long-term users, who used hair dye for 16 or
more years, were two and a half times more likely to have
leukemia than those who never used hair dye.
A study by Anastasia Tzonou, D.M.Sc., and colleagues at the
Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Athens
Medical School, published a report in the Sept. 30, 1993 issue of
the International Journal of Cancer, that suggested regular use
of hair dye might increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
The researchers asked 189 cancer patients and 200 hospital
visitors how often they dyed their hair each year. Compared to
women who had never dyed their hair, women who dyed their hair
one to four times a year had a 70 percent increased risk for
Women who used hair dye five times or more per year had twice the
risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to women who never
used hair dye.
Previous National Cancer Institute Studies
Linda Morris Brown, M.P.H., and her colleagues at the National
Cancer Institute (NCI) and the University of Iowa published a
report in the December 1992 issue of the American Journal of
Public Health, that showed a 90 percent increased risk for
multiple myeloma in a study of 173 men with the disease and 650
men without it.
More than 8 percent of the men diagnosed with multiple myeloma
reported using hair dyes, compared to less than 5 percent of the
men without the disease.
In addition to the overall increased risk of multiple myeloma,
risk increased among men who had used hair dyes at least monthly
for a year compared with men who used dyes less frequently or for
a shorter time.
In an NCI study conducted by Shelia Hoar Zahm, Sc.D., published
in the July 1992 issue of American Journal of Public Health,
women who used hair dyes had a 50 percent higher risk for
developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and an 80 percent higher risk
of multiple myeloma than women who never dyed their hair.
Among the 876 women in the study, the risk associated with
permanent hair coloring products was higher than that for
semi-permanent or non-permanent hair coloring products.
Risk was increased 70 percent in women who used permanent hair
dyes and 40 percent in women who used semi-permanent or
non-permanent dyes. Risk did not increase with frequency of hair
dye use, although risk increased with the
number of years of use.
Women who used black, brown/brunette, and red hair coloring
products had a twofold to fourfold increased risk of being
diagnosed with these cancers compared with no increased risk of
cancer in women who dyed their hair with lighter colors.
Other cancer risk factors, such as family history of cancer,
cigarette smoking, and herbicide or pesticide exposure, did not
change the risks calculated for hair dye use.
An earlier NCI study published in the May 1988 issue of the
American Journal of Public Health, showed that men who had used
hair dyes had a two-fold risk for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and
almost double the risk of leukemia.
Kenneth P. Cantor, Ph.D., and his colleagues at NCI, the
University of Iowa, and the University of Minnesota found this
increased risk by interviewing men with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma,
men with leukemia, and men without cancer.
In the United States, about 12,700 new cases of multiple
myeloma (6,500 men and 6,200 women) will be diagnosed in 1994,
and about 9,800 people (5,000 men and 4,800 women) will die of
About 45,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma will be
diagnosed in 1994 (25,000 men and 20,000 women), and about 21,200
people will die of the disease (11,200 men and 10,000 women).
Leukemia's of all kinds will account for about 28,600 new cases
of cancer (16,200 men and 12,400 women) and about 19,100 cancer
deaths (10,500 men and 8,600 women) in 1994.
About 24,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in
1994, and about 13,600 women will die from the disease.
References for Studies Mentioned Above:
1. "Hair Dye Use and Risk of Fatal Cancers in U.S.
Women." The authors are M. J. Thun, S. F. Altekruse, M. M.
Namboodiri, E. E. Calle, D. G. Myers, and C. W. Heath, Jr.
2. "Hair Dye Use and Leukemia. " The authors are D.P.
Sandler, D.L. Shore, C.D. Bloomfield, and Cancer and Leukemia
Group B Investigators.
3. "Hair Dyes, Analgesics, Tranquilizers and Perineal
Talc Application as Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer." The authors
are A. Tzonou, A. Polychronopoulou, C. Hsieh, A. Rebelakos, A.
Karakatsani, and D. Trichopoulos.
4. "Hair Dye Use in White Men and Risk of Multiple
Myeloma. The authors are L. M. Brown, G. D. Everett, L. F.
Burmaister, and A. Blair.
5. "Use of hair coloring products and the risk of lymphoma,
multiple myeloma, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia." The authors
are S. H. Zahm, D. D. Weisenburger, P. A. Babbitt, R. C. Saal; J.
B. Vaught, and A. Blair.
6. "Hair dye use and risk of leukemia and lymphoma." The authors
are K. P. Cantor, A. Blair, G. Everett, S. VanLier, L.
Burmaister, F. R. Dick, R. W. Gibson, and L. Schuman.
Source: National Institutes of Health, February 1, 1994
Transmitted: 94-03-07 16:29:39 EST
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