Is It True That Hair Dye and Relaxer Cause Cancer?

Here’s how to interpret and navigate all the negative health news

Andrea King Collier
Published in
5 min readJan 9, 2020


Photo: Roy JAMES Shakespeare/Getty Images

EEvery day we are reminded of the sheer volume of things that, according to studies, negatively impact women of color. You name it, it hurts us. From alcohol and traffic accidents to toxic masculinity and certain nail polishes, between the reporting of personal anecdotes or outright studies, there is often a negative outcome. And now, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study has found a correlation between chemical straighteners, hair dyes, and cancer.

What’s a woman to do?

Dig deeper.

The causal link between Black women, cancer, and chemical straighteners is something that has been discussed in the community for decades, but never proven. The NIH study suggested that usage of permanent hair dye and chemical relaxers leads to an increased risk of breast cancer — with risks even higher for Black women.

The study specifically stated this: “Using data from 46,709 women in the Sister Study, researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, found that women who regularly used permanent hair dye in the year prior to enrolling in the study were 9% more likely than women who didn’t use hair dye to develop breast cancer. Among African American women, using permanent dyes every five to eight weeks or more was associated with a 60% increased risk of breast cancer as compared with an 8% increased risk for White women. The research team found little to no increase in breast cancer risk for semi-permanent or temporary dye use.”

These kinds of results are common for coverage of health issues, which, if they include Black women at all, almost always end with a “Black women are more likely to get, have or even die from” the disease noted in the study or story.

BBut dye and chemical straighteners aren’t the only things that can give a sister pause — and they aren’t only used by Black women. I saw a study last year, from the Centers for Disease Control, that suggested the high blood pressure medicine I had been on for years increased Black women’s incidence of stroke and heart attacks. I hadn’t had any problems with my medication, nor had my doctor ever…