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Does Permanent Hair Dye Increase Your Risk of Cancer?

Earlier people used to use henna, amla, turmeric, red ochre and leeks to dye their hair and hide the greys but now that synthetic dyes have become available, many are switching to them. But are they really safe?

Updated:September 10, 2020, 7:41 PM IST
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Does Permanent Hair Dye Increase Your Risk of Cancer?
Representation purpose only. Image: Getty images

Greying of hair with age is normal. Usually the greying in men begins at the temples and in the sideburns while in women the greying starts around the perimeter of the hairline. Some people may also witness premature greying of hair which may or may not indicate a medical condition. While some people cherish their silver locks, others may feel the need to colour them. Earlier people used to use henna, amla, turmeric, red ochre and leeks to dye their hair and hide the greys but now that synthetic dyes have become available, many are switching to them. Synthetic dyes are readily available in the market and easy to apply. But are they really safe?

What are the risks associated with the use of hair dyes? 

There have been various pieces of evidence which signify that synthetic hair dyes, especially the permanent ones, contain numerous chemicals which can promote cancers. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer in July 2020 stated that most hair dyes and hair products contain endocrine-disrupting compounds and carcinogens, which can increase the risks of breast cancer.

Similarly, various studies in different journals have concluded that the use of permanent hair dyes can increase the risk of cancers in consumers, as well as hairdressers.

Apart from cancers, hair dyes can result in various allergic reactions. Accidental exposure of the dye in the eye can result in irritation, inflammation and even vision loss. Unintentional swallowing of the dye can result in life-threatening allergic reactions.

Long term use of permanent hair dyes linked with the risk of certain cancers

A recent study on the subject, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on 2nd September 2020, included 117,200 women who were already enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study in the US.

The participants were completely healthy at the beginning of the study. The scientists monitored the duration and frequency of the use of permanent hair dyes in these women for 36 years.

While the frequent users of permanent hair dyes showed no significant increase in the risk of hematopoietic cancers (blood cancers), squamous cell carcinoma, bladder cancer, melanoma, brain cancer, colorectal cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer or even cancer-related deaths, there was a slightly increased risk of basal cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer), ovarian cancer and some types of breast cancer (estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer, progesterone receptor-negative breast cancer and hormone receptor-negative breast cancer) in the women who used the dye for a prolonged period.

Given the recent findings and previous research, it is advised to limit the use of hair dye or look for natural or organic hair dyes with less harmful chemicals in them.

For more information, read our article on Cancers.

Health articles on News18 are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.


The information provided here is intended to provide free education about certain medical conditions and certain possible treatment. It is not a substitute for examination, diagnosis, treatment, and medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. If you believe you, your child or someone you know suffers from the conditions described herein, please see your health care provider immediately. Do not attempt to treat yourself, your child, or anyone else without proper medical supervision. You acknowledge and agree that neither myUpchar nor News18 is liable for any loss or damage which may be incurred by you as a result of the information provided here, or as a result of any reliance placed by you on the completeness, accuracy or existence of any information provided herein.

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