We live in a society that disapproves of aging women and considers straight hair desirable, facts that make going gray or being a black woman difficult if you want to keep your body healthy. But it may be time to start embracing our natural attributes — a just-published study shows hair dyes and relaxers significantly increase the risk of breast cancer, especially for black women.

The Journal of Cancer article published results from a study that followed more than 45,000 women over eight years. Black women who used hair dyes every five to eight weeks were 60 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who did not. For white women, the risk was 8 percent higher.

Chemical hair straighteners were linked to a 30 percent greater chance of developing breast cancer. Three quarters of the black women in the study straightened their hair compared to only a few percent of white women.

Toxic compounds in hair dyes raise cancer risks because they are “endocrine disrupters,” which means they mimic hormones and disrupt hormone function. This causes hormonal imbalances and raises the risk of breast cancer.

Researchers theorized the chemicals used in products for black women are more “hormonally active.”

Black women bear the brunt of toxic hair products

Many if not most commercial hair and body products for women are loaded with toxic chemicals and heavy metals. However, hair products aimed at black women are disproportionately worse and linked with early puberty, obesity, asthma, and cancer.

A 2016 study found black women showed higher levels of toxic chemicals found in such hair products compared to women of other ethnicities.

This includes 70-plus harmful chemicals in relaxers, root stimulators, and anti-frizz products.

These products (and many other general women’s beauty products) have chemicals that have been shown to have the following health effects:

  • Parabens and phthalates imbalance hormones and are linked to early puberty and premature births.
  • Nonylphenol is associated with increased obesity and cancer.
  • Formaldehyde raises the risk of miscarriages and respiratory issues.
  • Various hair toxins irritate the eyes and skin, burn and blister the scalp, damage hair follicles, cause hair loss, and cause respiratory disorders.
  • Hair relaxers increase uterine fibroids in black females by two to three times compared to other ethnicities. Eighty percent of black women will have uterine fibroids in their lifetime.
  • Pregnant cosmetologists exposed to black hair products have twice the rate of miscarriages.
  • Black women have more aggressive forms of breast cancer compared to white women and it is a leading cause of death among black women.

One hair product alone can have 30 different toxic chemicals and no studies have been done to assess how these chemicals affect human health in combination with one another.

While these products harm black women, the Black Women for Wellness Report also points to the complexity and conflict between harmful hair products and the positive role of hair salons in black communities.

Ask our office how to lower your toxic burden, protect your body from toxins, and improve your overall health.