An international group of scientists has concluded that people regularly exposed to hair dyes in their work have an increased risk of cancer.

by Charles Bankhead, Staff Writer, MedPage Today

LYON, France, March 25 — Hairdressers, barbers, and beauticians probably face an increased cancer risk from exposure to carcinogens in hair dyes, members of an international scientific panel have concluded.

Action Points 
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Explain to patients that an international group of scientists has concluded that people regularly exposed to hair dyes in their work have an increased risk of cancer.

Note that the panel reached the conclusion, even though the members said the evidence was not particularly strong.

A review of epidemiologic studies published over the past 15 years revealed “a small, but consistent risk of bladder cancer . . . in male hairdressers and barbers,” members of the International Agency for Research on Cancer said in a special report in the April issue of The Lancet Oncology.

The review uncovered limited supporting evidence related to duration or period of exposure, the panel members acknowledged. Nonetheless, the available data backed the suggestion from earlier studies that occupational exposure to hair dye is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The agency’s working group also reviewed epidemiologic data related to personal use of hair dyes but did not find enough evidence to make a definitive conclusion about carcinogenicity.

The report updated findings from a 1993 review of cancer risk in hairdressers, beauticians, and barbers.

During a February meeting at agency headquarters here, the working group of 17 scientists from seven countries also reviewed recent data related to the cancer-causing potential of aromatic amines and organic dyes.

The panel added the following to the list of definite or probable carcinogens:

  • Ortho-Toluidine, carcinogenic
  • 4-Chloro-ortho-toluidine, probably carcinogenic
  • 4,4′-Methylenebis, carcinogenic
  • Benzidine-based dyes, carcinogenic

The authors reported no potential conflicts of interest.


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Reviewed by Zalman S. Agus, MD; Emeritus Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Published: March 25, 2008

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