Personal use of permanent hair dyes and cancer risk and mortality in US women: prospective cohort study

BMJ. 2020 Sep 2:370:m2942. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2942.


Objective: To evaluate the associations between personal use of permanent hair dyes and cancer risk and mortality.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting and participants: 117 200 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study, an ongoing prospective cohort study of female nurses in the United States. The women were free of cancer at baseline, reported information on personal use of permanent hair dyes, and were followed for 36 years.

Exposure: Status, duration, frequency, and integral use (cumulative dose calculated from duration and frequency) of permanent hair dyes. Age at first use and time since first use of permanent hair dyes.

Main outcome measures: Associations of personal use of permanent hair dyes with risk of overall cancer and specific cancers, and cancer related death. Age and multivariable adjusted hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals were estimated by using Cox proportional hazard models.

Results: Ever users of permanent hair dyes had no significant increases in risk of solid cancers (n=20 805, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers; hazard ratio 0.98, 95% confidence interval 0.96 to 1.01) or hematopoietic cancers overall (n=1807; 1.00, 0.91 to 1.10) compared with non-users. Additionally, ever users did not have an increased risk of most specific cancers (cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, bladder cancer, melanoma, estrogen receptor positive breast cancer, progesterone receptor positive breast cancer, hormone receptor positive breast cancer, brain cancer, colorectal cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, and most of the major subclasses and histological subtypes of hematopoietic cancer) or cancer related death (n=4860; 0.96, 0.91 to 1.02). Basal cell carcinoma risk was slightly increased for ever users (n=22 560; 1.05, 1.02 to 1.08). Cumulative dose was positively associated with risk of estrogen receptor negative breast cancer, progesterone receptor negative breast cancer, hormone receptor negative breast cancer, and ovarian cancer. An increased risk of Hodgkin lymphoma was observed only for women with naturally dark hair (based on 70 women, 24 with dark hair), and a higher risk of basal cell carcinoma was observed for women with naturally light hair.

Conclusion: No positive association was found between personal use of permanent hair dye and risk of most cancers and cancer related mortality. The increased risk of basal cell carcinoma, breast cancer (estrogen receptor negative, progesterone receptor negative, hormone receptor negative) and ovarian cancer, and the mixed findings in analyses stratified by natural hair color warrant further investigation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Breast Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / chemically induced
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / chemically induced*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Female
  • Hair Dyes / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Kidney Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurses / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / mortality
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / chemically induced


  • Hair Dyes