Background: Hairdressers and allied occupations represent a large and fast growing group of professionals. The fact that these professionals are chronically exposed to a large number of chemicals present in their work environment, including potential carcinogens contained in hair dyes, makes it necessary to carry out a systematic evaluation of the risk of cancer in this group.
Methods: We retrieved studies by systematically searching Medline and other computerized databases, and by manually examining the references of the original articles and monographs retrieved. We also contacted international researchers working on this or similar topics to complete our search. We included 247 studies reporting relative risk (RR) estimates of hairdresser occupation and cancer of different sites.
Results: Study-specific RRs were weighted by the inverse of their variance to obtain fixed and random effects pooled estimates. The pooled RR of occupational exposure as a hairdresser was 1.27 (95% CI 1.15-1.41) for lung cancer, 1.52 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.11-2.08] for larynx cancer, 1.30 (95% CI 1.20-1.42) for bladder cancer and 1.62 (95% CI 1.22-2.14) for multiple myeloma. Data for other anatomic sites showed increases of smaller magnitude. The results restricted to those studies carried out before the ban of two major carcinogens from hair dyes in the mid-1970s were similar to the general results.
Conclusions: Hairdressers have a higher risk of cancer than the general population. Improvement of the ventilation system in the hairdresser salons and implementation of hygiene measures aimed at mitigating exposure to potential carcinogens at work may reduce the risk.