Hairdressers May Be at Heightened Cancer Risk

Cancer causing chemicals in blood spiked with number of hair dyeing and permanent treatments performed

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The price people will pay for beauty may be more than just dollars and cents as new Swedish research suggests there may be a serious toll on health.

Regular exposure to cancer-causing chemicals in hair dye, perming treatments and waving treatments may be harmful to hairdressers performing the beauty regiments.

A new study showed that the more dyes and treatments hairdressers used, the higher the concentration of the harmful chemicals in their blood.

"Avoid contact between hair dyes and your skin."

Gabriella Johannson, of the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Lund University in Sweden, was this study's lead author.

According to background information in this study, hairdressers have been classified as having an increased risk of cancer, particularly bladder cancer. In the 1970s, nearly 90 percent of commercial hair dyes contained potentially cancer-causing substances, prompting restrictions on use.

For this study, the research team used blood samples to look for the presence of eight potential cancer-causing chemicals in 295 hairdressers, 32 people who used hair dye and 60 who did not use hair dye.

All of the study participants were female non-smokers.

Analysis of the blood samples showed concentrations of cancer-causing ortho- and meta-toluidine increased significantly the more a hairdresser performed hair waving and permanent hair dyeing treatments.

The same increase was seen with increasing frequency with use of light-colored permanent hair dye treatments.

Ortho-toluidine, a light yellow-colored liquid that rapidly turns dark on exposure to air and light, has been labeled a "potential human carcinogen" by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which regulates exposure to the chemical in the workplace.

Variations and by-products of toluidine have been banned for use in cosmetics in the European Union, where this research originated.

Johansson and team found that hairdressers who did not perform any hair waving had an ortho-toluidine blood concentration of 7 picograms per gram (pg/g) of blood. In comparison, that concentration shot up to 19 pg/g in hairdressers who did one to seven waving treatments per week and to 22 pg/g in hairdressers who did more than eight of the treatments each week.

The authors of this study recommended that hairdressers minimize contact between skin and hair dyes, while also being sure to wear protective gloves.

According to the researchers, their findings suggest that the ingredients of hair dyes and perming products should be analyzed to find out if these products continue to be potential sources of toluidine exposure.

This study was published June 9 in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The research was supported by grants from the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research and by FAS-centre Metalund.

The authors did not report any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 12, 2014
Last Updated:
June 13, 2014