Women across the globe use different kinds of hair products ranging from hair oils, and shampoos to heat-protecting sprays and leave-in repairing conditioners. Different products have different compositions, but most of the materials used are considered safe as evidence in the form of scientific studies is lacking.
However, few recent studies suggest that hair relaxers and leave-in conditioners and oils, commonly used by women, may contain estrogens or estrogen-disrupting compounds. These chemicals found are known as ‘endocrine disrupting chemicals commonly found in parabens which are used in cosmetic products as preservatives.
Do hair products increase cancer risk?
A direct link between endocrine disruptors and cancer has not been proven yet, but these disruptors are known to impact hormones in the human body. They can trigger hormone-driven cancers like breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers. It is best to steer clear of products that can put you at risk of cancer.
Having said that, here’s a list of potentially harmful chemicals found in hair products:
Parabens are used in cosmetic products as a preservative. This means that they allow products to last longer on the shelf. Some small studies found that paraben might disrupt reproductive hormones in the body, harm fertility and reproductive organs, affect outcomes of birth, and also increases the risk of cancer.
Also Read: Here’s what you need to know about parabens
Found in the aerosol dry shampoo of many popular brands, Benzene is classified as a carcinogen, which can expose to several risk factors that could lead to leukaemia and other cancers of blood cells.
Some hair straightening or smoothing products contain formaldehyde. Surveys state that professionals who are potentially exposed to formaldehyde in their work have a higher risk of leukaemia and brain cancer in comparison to the general population.
Environmental Working Group (EWG), based in Washington, found the carcinogen known as 1,4-dioxane in 28 per cent of all personal care products after doing an extensive study of the ingredients in over 27,000 products.
Choose the right products to reduce health risks
According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1.6 percent of women who did not use chemical hair straighteners acquired uterine cancer by the age of 70, while 4 percent of women who regularly used such products did so. This increased risk may be attributed to the EDCs described above. Although more research is needed to come to a concrete conclusion based on facts and numbers, these preliminary studies can serve as a good reminder to be more cautious of the ingredients before using any product.
Lastly, one needs to contextualize this in light of changing lifestyles in modern times, especially exposure to other chemicals and toxins that are potentially carcinogenic and harmful. Being aware of the types of products available for hair care and how they can affect one’s health is necessary. While it is gratifying in short term to improvise one’s looks with cosmetics, choosing the right products for oneself and moderation of their use along with healthy food and lifestyle is the way forward.