As Black women, it is no secret that we wear our hair in unique styles as a way to express our individuality and unity. We rock edgy haircuts, straight tresses, and colorful dyes that give us that exclusive look, but according to a new study recently published in the International Journal of Cancer, you may want to think twice before getting your natural hair permanently dyed or chemically straightened.
Time reports, the study followed 46,700 U.S. women between the ages of 35 to 74 to ask them questions about their lifestyle—including their hair product use.
Each woman involved in the study enrolled in the Sister Study, which recruited breast cancer-free women whose sisters had been diagnosed with the disease.
Over the follow-up period of eight years, each woman answered questions not only about their lifestyle but also their health and demographics.
Funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the study found that more than half of the women reported the use of permanent hair dyes in the year before they joined the study, and about 10% said they had used chemical straighteners.
Researchers found these women had a greater chance of being among the nearly 2,800 study participants who ended up developing breast cancer—especially Black women.
“We observed a higher breast cancer risk associated with any straightener use and personal use of permanent dye, especially among black women,” the report read. “These results suggest that chemicals in hair products may play a role in breast carcinogenesis.”
Here is a simplified breakdown of the study:
- Those who used permanent hair dye had a 9% higher risk of developing breast cancer, compared to non-users.
- Black women who used permanent hair dye had a 45% higher risk of breast cancer, compared to non-users. The risk increased by 60% for those who used these products every eight weeks or more.
- 74% of the Black women studied reported using chemical straighteners, compared to 3% of white women. The use of chemical straighteners put the users at an 18% higher risk of breast cancer.
So, why are Black women put at higher risks for breast cancer when using permanent dyes and chemical straighteners?
One of the study's authors, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences epidemiologist Alexandra White, noted that the difference may be stemmed by the many formulations of the dyes and straighteners used by Black women compared to their White counterparts.
The study’s co-author Dale Sandler adds that Black women’s coarser and thicker hair may also absorb more dye.
We don’t know about you, but for us, rocking our natural hair and getting a custom wig has just become far more desirable.
At this time, more research is needed to confirm those hypotheses, but Sandler says it is important for doctors to make note of the differences in hair textures.
It's important to note, Black women are reportedly more likely to die from breast cancer than White women are.