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AACR II: Do Permanent Hair Dyes Increase the Risk of Skin Cancer?

By: Jocelyn Solis-Moreira, MS
Posted: Thursday, June 25, 2020

Research linking permanent hair dye with cancer has been largely inconclusive, which prompted Eva Schernhammer, MD, DrPH, of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, and colleagues to investigate cancer incidences. Their work, presented during the 2020 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Virtual Annual Meeting II (Abstract 3392), found no positive association between personal use of such dyes and risk of most cancers, except basal cell carcinoma, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. In addition, mixed findings on hair color suggest naturally light hair may prove to be more vulnerable to basal cell carcinoma.

The Nurses’ Health Study collected information on hair dye use from 117,200 female U.S. nurses who were cancer-free at the time of reporting. Hair dye data included age at use, frequency, duration, and time since first use of permanent hair dye. The researchers then followed the women from 1976 to 2012 to document any cases of cancer and cancer-related deaths.

They reported 20,805 solid cancer cases, which did not include 22,560 cases of basal cell carcinoma and 2,792 cases of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. Follow-up visits reported 4,860 cancer-related deaths. Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, there was no significant association between women who continued to use hair dyes (“ever-users”) and overall solid cancer risk, overall hematopoietic cancer risk, risk of most-specific cancers, and cancer-specific death. However, researchers did notice a small increase in the risk for basal cell carcinoma among ever-users. A larger cumulative dose heightened the risk of basal cell carcinoma along with breast and ovarian cancers.

In terms of hair color, there were mixed findings between ever-users and never-users. Women with naturally light hair appeared to have an increased risk of basal cell carcinoma and breast cancer. Also, an increased risk of Hodgkin lymphoma was observed in women with naturally dark hair who had used dark-colored permanent dyes. However, the authors stated, these results were based on limited cases and further research is needed.

Disclosure: The authors reported no conflicts of interest.



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