Safety of Hair Products/Straighteners and Hair Dyes
You may have read reports in the media about a study in the US* which suggests that use of some hair dyes and hair straighteners may increase the risk of breast cancer. CTPA understands that the many millions of consumers who use these products may be worried by the articles, and we would like to allay your concerns.
Dr Emma Meredith, Director-General of CTPA and a pharmacist says:
“I would like to reassure anyone who might feel concerned about their hair dyes or relaxers that such products must be safe to use. They are covered by robust safety requirements. While new information will always be considered carefully by industry scientists, European and international regulators and subjected to peer review, we know their safe use is underpinned by a wealth of scientific research and strict legislation.”
Hair dyes, relaxers and straighteners are classed as cosmetic products. As for any cosmetic product placed on the UK and EU markets, hair dyes and relaxers must not cause harm to human health. Strict cosmetic safety laws require that before any cosmetic product reaches the shelf it must have undergone a rigorous safety assessment by a professionally qualified safety assessor. This safety assessment takes into account the finished product, all of the ingredients, how and where the product is to be used, how often and by whom. The assessment will cover home use of cosmetic products as well as those in salons, covering the use of both the hair salon professional and the client. It will also guide the manufacturer in providing clear warnings and instructions – which often go further than is required by law.
Long history of safe use
The chemistry of how hair dyes and relaxers work is well-known and their safety is supported by a wealth of scientific research. Independent scientific bodies regularly review studies on hair colorants and relaxers and no link has been found between the use of such products and any type of cancer.
The European Commission, in partnership with the European cosmetics industry, is nearing the end of a comprehensive regulatory review of hair dyes. This programme means that all currently used hair dyes have been, or are being, reviewed by the Commission’s independent expert committee, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, to further confirm their safe use.
In fact, in 2016, the European Commission published an article confirming the safety of the EU market for hair dyes and stating that “hair dyes are among the most thoroughly assessed cosmetic products on the market in the European Union today.”
What the study says
It is important to note that an association or correlation between two factors; hair dye use and breast cancer in this case, does not necessarily mean that one causes the other. Epidemiology studies do not lend themselves to precise outcomes and, before any conclusions can be drawn, the same results would need to be seen in further scientific studies.
Complex statistical analysis has been used and the associations which have been identified are small, with many not being statistically significant. The fact that the risk is not associated with either frequency or duration of use of permanent hair dyes casts serious doubt on the strength of the results.
The study does not take into account lifestyle factors of participants. The study identified several lifestyle factors, including smoking, more likely to be associated with women who used permanent hair dye. In addition, all participants had a family history of breast cancer.
The Science Media Centre has issued expert commentary on the study. All experts that have provided commentary on the study consider that the results are inconsistent, inconclusive and that recommendations cannot be made on the basis of this study. Professor Paul Pharoah, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at the University of Cambridge noted that “while these results are intriguing, they do not provide good evidence that hair dyes or chemical straighteners are associated with a meaningful increase in risk of breast cancer” and he has reassured that “women who have used such products in the past should not be concerned about their risks.”
*Eberle, CE, Sandler, DP, Taylor, KW, and White, AJ. (2019) Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in a large US population of black and white women. International Journal of Cancer.